Former Google VP thinks AI will improve humanity

Artificially intelligent self-driving cars aren’t a technological evolution that everyone is entirely comfortable with just yet, but computer scientist Sebastian Thrun has enough optimism for all of us.

Speaking at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in San Francisco, Thrun said that not only does he think artificial intelligence is going to reshape the way we live, it’s going to do so for the better.

Thrun, a Stanford university professor who led Google's self-driving car project until 2014, said that as a result of technological advances over the past 200 to 300 years “we have turned ourselves into superhumans.” 

Brain power

According to Thrun, throughout history we’ve used technology to overcome our physical limitations and created ways to communicate across long distances, travel quickly across continents, and gather food more quickly than our ancestors ever could. 

Now we’re moving onto the next stage and thanks to advances in AI the focus is going to shift from “replacing our muscles” to “making our brains stronger.”

This next stage, he says, is just starting with super smart cars which will “outpace all of us because they can learn faster.”

The prospect that AI could outpace all of us might be a positive one for Thrun, but it’s a point of concern for others; very recently Barack Obama expressed worry in an interview with Wired magazine that whilst AI could be a great help to those in high skilled jobs, it could force those in low skilled jobs out of work and into poverty. 

Cause for concern

Thrun, however, doesn’t have quite the same concern, saying that “seventy-five percent of us in offices do mindless work. The good news that 75 percent of us will be freed from that mindless work.“ 

Thrun doesn’t elaborate on where exactly these workers will be freed to, but goes on to be confident that it will have a positive outcome: “In the history of humanity, every time a shift like this happened, we became better human beings. The experiences and culture we built so were much more valuable because we all stopped working on farms.“

AI technology has greatly improved in the last few years, with developments in neural networks allowing computers to absorb and apply information in a similar manner to the human brain. 

Though this is exciting and points towards many truly useful developments for humanity, it's understandable that there is some trepidation surrounding it, particularly as it’s a new technology that many have little to no experience with at the moment.

Recently a UK committee called for the government to start planning for the inevitable rise of AI, highlighting the need for new legislation and a more concentrated effort to open discussion around the technology to the public in order to build trust and comfort. 

Whether or not moves like this will be enough to ensure that we continue to develop AI technology in a way that will work positively for humanity is difficult to predict, but at least it's a start.

Emma Boyle

Emma Boyle is TechRadar’s ex-Gaming Editor, and is now a content developer and freelance journalist. She has written for magazines and websites including T3, Stuff and The Independent. Emma currently works as a Content Developer in Edinburgh.