Alphabet just published its annual Founders' Letter and this year, co-founder Sergey Brin uses it to outline how the company is using artificial intelligence and to highlight the benefits and risks of this "technology renaissance."
While Google CEO Sundar Pichai and other top brass have been mentioning the idea of being an "AI-first" company for years, Brin's letter provides both explicit and broad ways that the company is using artificial intelligence every day.
He highlights that the company employs it to:
- understand images in Google Photos;
- enable Waymo cars to recognize and distinguish objects safely;
- significantly improve sound and camera quality in our hardware;
- understand and produce speech for Google Home;
- translate over 100 languages in Google Translate;
- caption over a billion videos in 10 languages on YouTube;
- improve the efficiency of our data centers;
- suggest short replies to emails;
- help doctors diagnose diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy;
- discover new planetary systems;
- create better neural networks (AutoML);
... and much more.
Brin's letter also acknowledges the risk of artificial intelligence, which he says that Google is taking seriously.
However, such powerful tools also bring with them new questions and responsibilities. How will they affect employment across different sectors? How can we understand what they are doing under the hood? What about measures of fairness? How might they manipulate people? Are they safe?
There is serious thought and research going into all of these issues. Most notably, safety spans a wide range of concerns from the fears of sci-fi style sentience to the more near-term questions such as validating the performance of self-driving cars.
But Brin does not mention the debate that has erupted within Google over the company's partnership with the Pentagon to use artificial intelligence to interpret drone videos. Since Google revealed the contract, thousands of employees signed a petition urging the company not to be involved in "the business of war."
Brin says that Alphabet is focused on moving forward with "deep responsibility, care, and humility."
"I expect machine learning technology to continue to evolve rapidly and for Alphabet to continue to be a leader — in both the technological and ethical evolution of the field," he writes.
Read the full letter here.