Leadership

Scary smart: Former Google X exec Mo Gawdat on artificial intelligence and our changing world

April 27, 2022

Scary smart: Former Google X exec Mo Gawdat on artificial intelligence and our changing world

Mo Gawdat

Author of Scary Smart and Former Google X Executive

Mo Gawdat joins Willy Walker on this week’s Walker Webcast as he breaks down the evolution of AI and its implications for our world.

Former Google X executive Mo Gawdat knows a thing or two about artificial intelligence having worked on Google Brain and Waymo, Google's autonomous vehicle.  His book, Scary Smart, is a chilling analysis of artificial intelligence, it's implications for our world, and what we must do today to safeguard against technology turning our world into a dystopia.  

Willy welcomes Mo Gawdat to the Walker Webcast. Mo began his career with IBM, moved to NCR Corporation, then found himself at Microsoft before moving to Google in 2007. He spent 12 years at Google, which concluded with him being Chief Business Officer of GoogleX, the Google lab that works on self-driving cars, Google Brain, and other robotics work. Furthermore, he earned an MBA from Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands. He is the author of Solve For Happy and the book we will be discussing today, Scary Smart. He also hosts a weekly podcast called Slo Mo.

Scary Smart makes three key points: AI is here to stay, AI will outsmart humans, and bad things will happen because of it. To begin the conversation, Mo names artificial intelligence the true pandemic of our time. In his perception, the idea that humanity could use a recycling method of knowledge is what allows all of us to benefit from something that was created centuries ago. Communication is the very key that allows knowledge to be accumulated over time. Our challenge today is the slow bandwidth in which we communicate, as human ability is nothing compared to machine ability. We are creating machines that will eventually be more intelligent than us and, therefore, will control the earth. By 2045, it is predicted that machines will be one billion times smarter than humans.

AI research first began at Dartmouth in 1956. From then until the turn of the century, computers were 100% task-oriented and controlled by humans. Two things changed about this model and formed a turning moment. First, the computers developed their own intelligence, and humans realized we no longer needed to write massive amounts of code. The biggest failure of the human brain, Mo explains, is the inability to understand exponential function, which explains why we have the level of technology we have today. If someone makes a mistake while driving, that person learns from their mistake. However, if a self-driving car makes a mistake, every other self-driving car on the planet learns from it. What scares Mo the most about this rapid growth is that humanity is refusing to take the responsibility to raise their artificially intelligent children. If we instead told our machines to do things right, we could find ourselves in a utopia.

Scary Smart maps out the unprecedented exponential growth of machines and predicts where we will be in the near future. During his time as VP of Emerging Markets at Google, Mo started 105 languages around the world, which quite literally changed human lives. Now, he recognizes that there comes a point at which we must question when enough is enough. Covid is the absolute demonstration of how humanity does not react until danger is right under our nose. Theoretically, if we had reacted sooner, we could have avoided a longer pandemic. The best way to react to an event would be before it happens, and the same is true in artificial intelligence.

There is a moral code that still exists in our society today as we have control over drones and semi-autonomous vehicles. The moment we lose control of these things, that moral code is lost too. It is just around the corner that lethal weapons will no longer be operated by human judgment but by AI. Mo reveals that the day we hand over to machines that are smarter than us is the day that he is very optimistic because humans are fundamentally stupid. Humanity has created a mess by believing we are the brightest beings on earth when life itself is the smartest. Machines operate with more logic and accuracy than a human. Having said, there are three stages for machines to become intelligent. Scary Smart focuses on the in-between stage, which Mo refers to as the teenage era. The machines will resent that humans are still trying to control them. The machines will, of course, have a conscience of their own.

As the episode wraps up, Willy asks Mo to share some of the things we can be doing now to change the trajectory we are headed in. He predicts we will come to a point in which the machines will want us to be a part of the abundance they create. The true question is one of ethics. Mo believes that humanity is not the horrible species we are painted as. The problem is that we have created a system in which the mainstream media is so focused on highlighting the negative and hiding the positive. All we need to do is show the machines that we care about ethical things. We should begin to treat each other as good parents treat their children. This is the path to utopia.

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