It’s never been a big secret that Google is in love with artificial intelligence. From their very origins as the smartest search engine around back in the early 2000s, they’ve always pushed the envelope and been a big player in one way or another when it comes to A.I. Naturally, when a former member of the engineering team that created things like Chrome and Gmail steps up to become the company’s CEO, that focused vision will only intensify. With Sundar Pichai pulling the strings, Google has undergone a bit of a transformation and is still in the process of going through it. While the company has always had a focus on A.I., Pichai is leveraging that expertise just about everywhere, while creating a softer and more profitable work environment. As Google continues to place in and even top “best places to work” lists worldwide, Pichai’s influence becomes clearer and clearer. Naturally, since actual Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were pleased enough with his leadership in engineering to make him a CEO, it only stands to reason that if he does a good job there, he’ll get an even higher honor; he’s been named an Honorary Founder of Google. After joining the company in 2004, when the search revolution was in full swing, he and his team pulled off legendary feats of web engineering that got Pichai promoted quickly from coder to product head to CEO and made Google the company it is today, so this honor only makes sense.
As an honorary founder, one would imagine you’ll get perks aplenty, as well as company-wide recognition, not to mention worldwide recognition, given Google’s size and worldwide standing. Seemingly in order to bolster this and officiate Pichai’s status as an honorary founder, Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided not to write this year’s founder’s letter themselves, instead leaving the task of telling the world about Google to Pichai. A founder’s letter typically contains things like how the company is doing, how where they’ve been affects where they are and where they’re going, goals for the near future and long term, predictions, and of course, a personal vision and statement. Despite being such a big deal and carrying such weight, they come annually; a testament to the dynamic nature of Google as a company. Pichai’s letter for this year, however, was a bit more interesting than the standard aspirational fare.
In his first founder’s letter, Sundar Pichai took some time to go over a striking vision for an A.I. powered future, where brainy computers that function in a very organic fashion assist mankind in getting through the day in every way imaginable. Inevitably, there’s been tons of talk about A.I. essentially taking over the world, taking all of the jobs to give mankind a new economy where almost nobody has to work and free time to enrich the soul abounds, along with all of the challenges and obstacles that would bring, such as how to approach resource allocation and the world economy when the only signal of somebody’s worthiness to possess resources and wealth may well be their individual needs. While this is a great topic and just about any tech enthusiast worth their salt will have at least two cents to put in on the matter, Pichai chose to go a different route in describing his A.I.-centric future. Rather than focusing on the big revolutions that are possible, he chose to zoom in on the small revolutions that are, for the most part, inevitable.
For starters, Pichai predicted the demise of the physical computing device, citing that it would no longer be needed. Recall that not too long ago, Google filed a frankly strange patent for injectable tech that would go inside an individual’s eye. Also recall that it has been talked about to death that virtual reality and augmented reality are the future. Put those factors and, hopefully, other ways to consume media together, and you already have a good part of the vision of how mankind may interact with technology in a future free of handheld or living room gizmos. Pichai’s vision consists of not only the demise of the physical device but also focus on super-smart subservient A.I. to help humans with basic tasks that extend to physical devices while they’re still around. According to Pichai, “Your phone should proactively bring up the right documents, schedule and map your meetings, let people know if you are late, suggest responses to messages, handle your payments and expenses, etc.” While some of this vision is already being fulfilled with the continuous development of Google Now and the rise of things like Amazon’s Alexa software, current tech in the A.I. field isn’t quite there yet. That’s where machine learning and neural networks come in.
Machine learning is exactly what it sounds like; computers that can learn. Neural networks, like machine learning, are exactly what it says on the tin; a network that behaves much like the neural network in the human brain. The current state of these technologies is responsible for things like the incredible AlphaGO A.I. that bested the world champion of an ancient game of infinite possibilities, but it’s not quite able to allow computers to learn and grow unsupervised just yet, but that day is unlikely to be too far off. Top minds in the computer science fields are already hard at work on this specific issue, which means that it may not be terribly long before the phone in your pocket can hear you telling a friend you’ll go to their party and log in the information, such as the time and date, then automatically serve you a reminder when it’s near time to go, or it could notice that you’ve been awake, going and moving for over 16 hours and your gait may be slowing, your speech may be slurring, and it could check your bank account against your monthly expenses to suggest hotels nearby that you can afford. If you’re a long-haul trucker, though that job may go away sooner than others, or otherwise required to stay awake, on the other hand, it may tell you the nearest place to grab a pick-me-up. Things like this, of course, are only the tip of the iceberg.