Eric Schmidt wants you to know that robots are your friend.
That makes sense, considering that as chairman and former CEO of Google, Schmidt has been heavily involved in the development of some of the the world’s most sophisticated artificially intelligent systems, from the self-driving car to Google’s predictive search engine. The company even recently launched its own internal robotics lab. But while Schmidt admits sitting shotgun in the self-driving car is not an “altogether happy” experience (read: it’s terrifying), he also believes that all the fear of machines stealing jobs and taking over the world is unwarranted.
“These concerns are normal,” he said onstage during the Financial Times Innovate America event in New York City Tuesday. “They’re also to some degree misguided.”
According to Schmidt, people have been concerned about machines taking over the world for centuries. “Go back to the history of the loom. There was absolute dislocation,” he said, “but I think all of us are better off with more mechanized ways of getting clothes made.” Plus, he argued, in the past economies have prospered the more they adopt these new technologies. “There’s lots of evidence that when computers show up, wages go up,” he said. “There’s lots of evidence that people who work with computers are paid more than people without.”
The real threat, he believes, is that education systems around the world aren’t teaching their students the skills they need to work together with these increasingly intelligent machines. “The correct concern,” Schmidt explained, “is what we’re going to do to improve the education systems and incentive systems globally, in order to get people prepared for this new world, so they can maximize their income.”
All that said, Schmidt also confessed that these machines are a lot more primitive than people would like to imagine. For evidence of that fact, he explained an experiment Google conducted a few years back, in which the company’s scientists developed a neural network and fed it 11,000 hours of YouTube videos to see what it could learn, without any training. “It discovered the concept of ‘cat,'” Schmidt said, assuming the tone of a disappointed dad. “I’m not quite sure what to say about that, except that that’s where we are.” In other words, Schmidt believes human operators are still every bit as important as the technology.
Of course, for Schmidt, this messaging is a tad self-serving. Artificial intelligence is at the core of almost all of Google’s current and and future technologies. If the company wants to live up to its longstanding corporate motto, it’ll need to convince the public that these inventions won’t, well, “be evil.”