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Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google and Alphabet

Google CEO calls for global AI regulation

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In an editorial for the Financial Times, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has called for governments to lay down regulations for AI, warning that failing to do so could be dangerous.

Pichai acknowledged that life-saving benefits can be reaped from the technology, but said that AI could have a negative impact on public safety and privacy, as well as being influenced by human bias. Government regulation was necessary to prevent these effects, he said.

Google is one of the most influential and well-resourced forces in AI, with many applications including its consumer-facing virtual assistant Google Assistant.

“It is my privilege to help to shape new technologies that we hope will be life-changing for people everywhere; one of the most promising is artificial intelligence,” Pichai wrote in the Financial Times.

“Yet history is full of examples of how technology’s virtues aren’t guaranteed. Internal combustion engines allowed people to travel beyond their own areas, but also caused more accidents. The internet made it possible to connect with anyone and get information from anywhere, but also easier for misinformation to spread.”

Pichai pointed to the “nefarious uses of facial recognition” as an example of how AI can – at its worst – be a danger to public safety. He said that consistent regulation around the globe was necessary for ensuring that AI is developed safely and suggested that GDPR could be used as the foundation for AI regulation.

“International alignment will be critical to making global standards work. To get there, we need agreement on core values. Companies such as ours cannot just build promising new technology and let market forces decide how it will be used. It is equally incumbent on us to make sure that technology is harnessed for good and available to everyone,” he wrote.

Pichai said that Google was open to working with governments to shape regulation – pointing to its existing guidelines on appropriate use of AI – and recognised the need for “a principled and regulated approach to applying AI”. He suggested that regulatory approaches to AI should vary depending on the sector, with more cautious approaches to products like autonomous vehicles and fewer new restrictions for AI in healthcare.

Under the leadership of President Donald Trump, the US is edging towards a more hands-off approach to AI regulation. However, the EU prefers a cautious approach to data handling and AI, with the European Commission proposing a five-year ban on facial recognition in public areas to ensure that the technology is developed and deployed ethically.

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