Sundar Pichai touts the value of AI ethics despite high-profile firings

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai sat down with MKBHD for an interview that focused on the importance of AI and the technologies that were announced at Google I/O this week.

In the interview, Pichai talks about the practical uses of AI, such as advancements in Google’s computational photography that can be found in phones like the Google Pixel 5, making it easier to account for darker skin tones. Pichai mentions how excited he was for the technology and how his own daughter benefited personally from it. “My daughter had the same reaction when she first heard about it,” he stated. “She felt she wasn’t represented correctly.”

This also extended to features like Live Caption, and Pichai noted that certain features that may impact one community have the potential to benefit many more people outside of that community.

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Aside from practicality, Pichai also talked about the ethics behind some of its AI, saying that it’s important for tech companies to work with government bodies to help regulate AI and steer its direction.

One example that he notes where the ethics of AI come into play is with Google’s new LaMDA technology that it debuted at Google I/O. The technology aims to make Google Assistant better understand speech and allow for more free-flowing conversations. Pichai noted that while this is still in research, it’s important that AI is not used in a way that impersonates anyone.

…this is why we articulated our AI principles very clearly and publicly so that we have a framework to think through anything like this…we would have to have ethical principles and guidelines around anything we develop there.

This statement highlights the importance of Google’s efforts in Ethical AI, even as the company struggles with its own ethics around its employees. Google had been involved in a very public conflict over its treatment of Ethical AI employees like Timnit Gebru, which eventually lead to the firing and loss of other respected researchers.

Meanwhile, Google recently stated that it plans to double the size of the team studying ethical AI practices to help bolster Google’s AI efforts with projects like LaMDA. This comes as Google reportedly tightens its grip on its AI teams, one of which has been fighting for years to gain more autonomy.

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Google’s DeepMind unit has tried to gain more independence from Google, stating that its research shouldn’t be controlled by one company. However, those talks have broken down as Google tries to control the narrative around its AI research.

You can check out the interview with Pichai below to hear more about what he thinks AI’s role will be in the future, how he likes to play around with some of the best Android phones, and to find out what phone he has in his pocket.

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