UPDATED 13:24 EDT / JANUARY 20 2020

google POLICY

Meeting EU antitrust chief, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai calls for AI regulation

Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google LLC parent Alphabet Inc., has penned an op-ed piece calling for the implementation of “global standards” to regulate the use of artificial intelligence.

The piece was published in the Financial Times on Sunday night, hours before a scheduled meeting between Pichai and European Union competition head Margrethe Vestager.

Vestager, who has hit Alphabet with billions of dollars in fines over recent years, in October took on an expanded role as executive vice president for digital affairs. The Danish politician said at the time of her appointment that she would unveil new AI rules within 100 days of receiving the mandate.

In his Financial Times op-ed, Pichai (pictured) expressed support for the creation of legal standards to govern AI use and argued that global regulators should craft rules based on “international alignment.” Google, he added, wants to be a partner to authorities as they develop the new legal frameworks. “We offer our expertise, experience and tools as we navigate these issues together,” Pichai wrote. 

Google in December open-sourced a tool for detecting bias in AI models called Fairness Indicators. The software, based on TensorFlow, visualizes certain algorithm properties to help engineers find objectivity issues more easily.

Pichai also used the opportunity to tout the internal ethical guidelines around AI that Google unveiled in 2018 and highlighted some examples of how the company is trying to use the technology for the common good. He listed, among other things, the machine learning system the Alphabet subsidiary unveiled this month for automating breast cancer detection.

“AI has the potential to improve billions of lives, and the biggest risk may be failing to do so,” Pichai wrote. “By ensuring it is developed responsibly in a way that benefits everyone, we can inspire future generations to believe in the power of technology as much as I do.” 

The op-ed attracted a good amount of exposure this morning, though not all positive. Longtime Google search watcher, journalist and media executive John Battelle called it “weak sauce,” and others accused Pichai of failing to provide specific suggestions. Pichai’s entry into the discussion about AI governance brings more attention to an issue that is likely to be front and center in the broader tech regulation debate this year. 

Pichai, who as appointed Alphabet CEO in December after leading Google for four years, is just the latest prominent industry figure to call for AI regulations. Microsoft Corp. president Brad Smith has publicly called for tougher rules too, as have Apple CEO Tim Cook and Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk on in speeches at industry events

Photo: Google

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