HEric Schmidt helped transform Google from a Silicon Valley startup to a global heavyweight and appreciates the power of technology in the modern world more than almost anyone. But some things also scare him.
The technologist, entrepreneur and co-founder of the philanthropic foundation Schmidt Futures told the TIME100 leadership forum in Singapore on Sunday: “You don’t have to worry about the killer robot.” It makes a good movie, but “we’re not building that, right? It’s not happening.”
However, he is concerned about the misuse of artificial intelligence to build things in the real world. “I think that in the next five years, algorithms will emerge that will allow you to stitch together very, very malicious viruses,” he told TIME editor-in-chief John Simons. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the social and economic impact of a global health crisis. In the wrong hands, Schmidt warned, such skills could do something far worse.
He also warned against replacing human-guided decision-making with AI systems in conflict scenarios. “The problem with cyber warfare is that the AI can make mistakes,” he said. For the same reason, the use of automated systems in ground warfare could be disastrous for human life, he added.
When it comes to disinformation and harmful content, the former Google CEO said it’s crucial for social media companies and governments to work together, but he has doubts about how effective regulation alone can be. “Regulators only have one tool,” he said, a tool inadequate for dealing with “complicated” tech companies. This creates a “mismatch” between what the legislature intends to do and what companies can actually achieve, he said.
On the other hand, tech companies shouldn’t be left entirely to their own devices. “Ultimately, the problem with self-regulation is that you’re revenue-driven, so you’re making the wrong compromise,” he said.
But despite the challenges of weighing the technology’s strengths and threats as it continues to grow, Schmidt said he was “largely optimistic” about the future. “We’re going to end up lowering the price of intelligence because there’s going to be a lot more of it,” he said. “And I challenge you to argue against it [the benefits of] that – making the world smarter, with better data, better ideas, better planning, better innovation.”
The TIME100 Leadership Forum, held at the National Gallery of Singapore, brought together CEOs and other business leaders from around the world to discuss how they are using their platforms to build a better world. Speakers at the event were: DBS CEO Piyush Gupta; Sandhya Sriram, Co-Founder and Group CEO of Singapore-based cultured seafood company Shiok Meats; Neo Gim Huay, executive director of the Center for Nature and Climate at the World Economic Forum; Ari Sarker, President of Mastercard for Asia Pacific; and Neeraj Aggawal, BCG Chairman for Asia Pacific.
Immediately following the Leadership Forum were the TIME100 Impact Awards, which featured actress and producer Alia Bhatt; computer geneticist dr. Pardis Sabeti; Greg Robinson, former director of the James Webb Space Telescope Program; and singer and actress Lea Salonga.
– With reports by Amy Gunia in Singapore
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