At Further Future’s second incarnation, Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc. (formerly Google), addressed the dark side of artificial intelligence as he sat in the desert surrounded by the skeptical, the curious, the hopeful and the innovative. AI’s destructive potential has disturbed our imagination for decades. Science fiction films and literature have predicted and shaped our technological future: Kubrick’s killer computer HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the unstoppable Borg from Star Trek Enterprise and the omniscient Skynet from the Terminator series. Schmidt calmly states that he knows no one professionally working in the field who thinks that AI computers will rebel like HAL any time in the near future. Tackling the dark side, Schmidt assures us that the robots are our friends, as Isaac Asimov commanded in his Three Laws of Robotics.
Schmidt highlights Kubrick’s inclusion of tablet devices in the film to emphasize the director’s foresight and to illustrate his own egalitarian vision of AI. These systems of extraordinary complexity and processing ability will help us all be smarter—“and not just the rich.” Imagine a peaceful, adaptive assistant whose goal is to maximize your efficiency and effectiveness based on your stated cultural values. Instead of thinking about HAL overriding human commands, recall Rosie, the robot maid from The Jetsons, offering services for your productivity and well-being. Schmidt desires a “Not-Eric” to help him, and believes that the same technology will help solve humanity’s greatest problems. How will your robotic assistant help you consciously and unconsciously?
Besides this commonly considered application for AI, Schmidt breaks down a “more interesting use,” replicating human “intuition at a scientific level.” What if AI can expand the unconscious and think most optimally, with a Zen master’s flow and a Taoist’s surfing of the Way? With a synergized combination of AI and intuitive processes, the powerful automation of complex scientific methods will rapidly increase discoveries and make huge impacts. Schmidt thinks that within 10 years AI will affect all aspects of our existence. “Better, cheaper, faster” is a motto Schmidt applies to innovative materials for cars and houses, and in the near future, computers with artificial intelligence may consciously write programs for themselves based upon this motto that should benefit us all. Does that mean that AI will understand sustainability and that “better, cheaper, faster” means smarter, cleaner, greener products and systems that integrate nature? Schmidt knows that “complex evolutionary systems are hard to model.” They may be, but we still need to try.