Former Google chief Eric Schmidt says Elon Musk is wrong to condemn AI development

Eric Schmidt & Maurice Levy

One of Google’s former chiefs, Eric Schmidt has said that he believes that Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk is wrong to condemn the development of artificial intelligence (AI) as he believes it will only help make humanity smarter.

Speaking at VivaTech to Publicis Groupe chairman, Maurice Levy, Schmidt discussed the potential of AI and machine learning for society, although he highlighted that it is not yet ready to be fully trusted by people, but only to assist to help further the user’s abilities and achievements.

“It’s important to say that AI, at the moment, has too many errors to fly the airplane. It’s fine for the AI to advise the pilots, but you do not want AI to fly the airplane – too many errors, too many false positives. But over time those errors become smaller, and the other problem with the systems we are talking about is with the big language and learning models, they can’t tell you exactly whether they have learned something…I like to think of it not as a replacement for humans, but rather making people smarter.”

On the start-up sector, he stated having spotted that all start-ups were using and working in AI, especially in the medical space.

Schmidt added his believe that AI will help further medical discoveries, diagnosis and highlighted that while China and America were leading the way in it’s development, he saw France also becoming a global power in the field of developing AI.

“We believe that this technology should be available to everyone – not just the rich people and rich countries,” he added of Alphabet, Google’s parent company’s belief that the technology is available to all.

On the day that GDPR came into force, he highlighted the potential for AI to help discover violations on data privacy due to the vast amount of data available to assist it and added that Alphabet had chosen to be fully compliant and to operate under the laws in the places in which it was based.

“We have taken a position of let’s make it work and we are doing that,” he stated before offering his own reservation around the implementation of regulation within the tech sector as being something that would prevent new innovation, as it was based on what was a reality at the time implemented.

“I would prefer to solve problems by innovation and competition over regulation. The problem that you get into over regulation in tech is that they tend to benefit the current incumbents and make it different for new people to come along, because we know what we know – not what we don’t know.

“You have to find the balance – you need some regulation but too much regulation can slow your creativity and entrepreneurship. Let’s see if we can get entrepreneurial solutions to most problems than write the law,” he added.

Asked by Levy about Musk’s hard stance against AI, which was described earlier this year by the entrepreneur as being more dangerous than nuclear warheads, Schmidt was firmly opposed to the view.

“I think Elon is exactly wrong, so my position is clear,” he stated. “And he is wrong because he doesn’t understand the benefits that this tech will provide to making every human smarter. AI is fundamentally good for humanity, it makes every citizen smarter from the best educated to the least, it allows you to live longer from with less pain and less disease, it allows you to make economic and social systems more fluid. Over-and-over again, making people smarter is a net good. He is concerned about the possible misuse of this technology, and I am too, but the overwhelming benefit of this is positive. You would not invent the telephone because of the possible misuse by evil people? No, you would try and police the use of the telephone.”

He also stated that with fewer people in work, the best way to help economies to pay as a result and to help a growing population keep up with technological development was through the use of AI to support them.

The previous day, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg spoke to Maurice Levy at the same event, where he discussed data privacy issues including his own platform’s GDPR compliance.

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