Entrepreneurs

Google billionaire Eric Schmidt: People want dish-washing robots to clean up the kitchen more than any other kind

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There is nothing that people want robots to be able to do more than to wash the dishes, according to Alphabet Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt.

"When you ask a person what they would like a robot to do, the thing that they would like more than anyone else, is clean up the dishes in the kitchen," the billionaire Google executive says speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday.

"That is literally the number one request. And I say this having done this exhaustively," he says.

Though you may dream of a robot dishwasher, don't hold your breath for it to happen in the immediate future.

"That turns out to be an extraordinarily difficult problem," says Schmidt.

Eric Schmidt at WEF in Davos, Switzerland.
Patrick Bucci | CNBC
Eric Schmidt at WEF in Davos, Switzerland.

"And why? Well, think about what it requires. You have to walk into a situation, you have to assess where things are, you have to identify everything, you have to remember where it goes, you have to move it in an appropriate way and you have to do all this in some manner of real time."

In the immediate future, it's more likely artificial intelligence will help your doctor make better decisions, says Schmidt.

"Right now, the technology of artificial intelligence machine learning is largely very powerful pattern-matching. The impact that it's going to have on society is probably first and most importantly felt in health care," says Schmidt.

"Think about what doctors do: A lot of doctors are using intuition and their eyes, literally examining what they see, reasoning, looking at patterns and so forth. Those abilities that humans have are very well augmented.

"This is a case of doctor plus, not doctor minus, doctor plus, these kinds of systems. So for the next five years, that's going to be the big narrative."

A bit further into the future, Schmidt imagines a world in which robots are helping scientists solve problems. It's "much more likely" that computers will be "savants" than they will be dishwashers, says Schmidt.

"My hope, by the way, is in 10 years, 15 years, you'll have — and this, I think, is the optimistic view — is that you'll have physicists who'll ask the computer a deep physics question, and while they're sleeping, the computer will do an analysis of all of the papers, read them all, and come up with some other scenarios for the physicist to start to think about."

Whatever its capabilities, there's no dispute that AI will increasingly be a part of our future and it will, on net, make our lives better.

"The positive benefits are so overwhelming in terms of better understanding of these complicated dynamic systems that we depend on every day, whether it's petroleum distribution in an oil-rich state, or assembly-line and defect management in a manufacturing country, or social media in a services business or globalization for planning, it touches everything," says Schmidt.

Some, like tech leader and boss Elon Musk, believe acceleration of automation will put so many people out of work that the government will have to pay people cash to live.

But the Alphabet boss says that robots and artificial intelligence will change jobs, not replace them.

"I think it's pretty evident that the technologies that I'm talking about, at least for the foreseeable future, replace tasks, not jobs. And so it's not obvious that there are fewer jobs. There are in fact, many more jobs. And while we can identify a job that's lost, we can also identify a much larger number, in my view, of jobs that are created because of greater efficiency, greater interconnection and so forth and so on. I'm a jobs optimist in that regard."