Alphabet President and Google co-founder Sergey Brin published the 2017 annual founders’ letter, acknowledging the roles of artificial intelligence (AI) and cryptocurrency mining in pushing the computing age forward.
Alphabet Founders’ Letter 2017
Sergey Brin began the letter with a quote from Charles Dickens’ book ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ He wrote:
“We’re in an era of great inspiration and possibility, but with this opportunity comes the need for tremendous thoughtfulness and responsibility as technology is deeply and irrevocably interwoven into our societies.”
Brin then went on to classify the rise of AI as the most significant development in the field of computation during his lifetime. When he founded Google Inc. with Larry Page in 1998, AI was nothing more than a distant vision of the future.
Since then, however, Google itself has been at the forefront of tremendous developments in machine learning, big data analysis, and artificial intelligence. Several Google products today, including its flagship search platform, employ AI tools to enhance their product.
Brin warned, “Such powerful tools also bring with them new questions and responsibilities. How will they affect employment across different sectors? How can we understand what they are doing under the hood? What about measures of fairness? How might they manipulate people? Are they safe?”
What is Artificial Intelligence?
Britannica defines artificial intelligence as “the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings.”
Artificial intelligence involves the learning of any process by a machine and then repeating it over a given period of time to achieve perfection. Most AI programs use a trial and error based system to facilitate their learning, in which the computer simulates all probable possibilities until it finds a viable solution or answer to the problem.
Cryptocurrency Mining: A Boon to Hardware
Brin also spoke about technological innovation in the processor segment, noting that the sector has been rapidly growing due to an increase in demand for cryptocurrency mining and gaming applications. The proof of work consensus algorithm employed by most cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin and Ethereum, relies on powerful, and sometimes even specialized, hardware.
According to Brin, there has been a significant rise in the hardware capabilities of processors. The current generation of processors are far more efficient and powerful than their predecessors. To put this into perspective, the Pentium II processors from 20 years ago performed about 100 million floating point operations per second while GPUs today are capable of handling over 20 trillion operations every second.
The Debate on the Safety of AI
Brin isn’t the only notable technology personality to have warned about the future effects of artificial intelligence on humanity though. At the premiere of the documentary ‘Do You Trust this Computer?’, Elon Musk equated the adoption of AI to “an immortal dictator.”
“Those supercomputers could become an immortal dictator from which we would never escape,” said the SpaceX and Tesla founder. He added, “We are rapidly headed towards digital superintelligence that far exceeds any human.”
Musk also stirred controversy when he labeled Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as someone who has ‘limited’ knowledge about AI. Importantly, Facebook too has been making considerable strides in machine learning to augment various features of its social platform.