Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge
‘The only question is how to approach it.’
Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai has called for new regulations in the world of AI, highlighting the dangers posed by technology like facial recognition and deepfakes, while stressing that any legislation must balance “potential harms … with social opportunities.”
“[T]here is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. It is too important not to,” writes Pichai in an editorial for The Financial Times. “The only question is how to approach it.”
Although Pichai says new regulation is needed, he advocates a cautious approach that might not see many significant controls placed on AI. He notes that for some products like self-driving cars, “appropriate new rules” should be introduced. But in other areas, like healthcare, existing frameworks can be extended to cover AI-assisted products.
“COMPANIES SUCH AS OURS CANNOT JUST BUILD PROMISING NEW TECHNOLOGY AND LET MARKET FORCES DECIDE HOW IT WILL BE USED.”
“Companies such as ours cannot just build promising new technology and let market forces decide how it will be used,” writes Pichai. “It is equally incumbent on us to make sure that technology is harnessed for good and available to everyone.”
The Alphabet CEO, who heads perhaps the most prominent AI company in the world, also stresses that “international alignment will be critical to making global standards work,” highlighting a potential area of difficulty for tech companies when it comes to AI regulation.
Currently, US and EU plans for AI regulation seem to be diverging. While the White House is advocating for light-touch regulation that avoids “overreach” in order to encourage innovation, the EU is considering more direct intervention, such as a five-year ban on facial recognition. As with regulations on data privacy, any divergence between the US and EU will create additional costs and technical challenges for international firms like Google.
Pichai’s editorial did not call out any specific proposals for regulations, but in comments made later in the day at a conference in Brussels he suggested a temporary ban on facial recognition — as being mooted by the EU — might be welcome. This fits with Google’s own approach to facial recognition, which it refuses to sell because of worries it will be used for mass surveillance. Rivals like Microsoft and Amazon continue to sell the technology.
As Pichai notes, “principles that remain on paper are meaningless.” Sooner or later, talk about the need for regulation is going to have to turn into action.