Google CEO: 'Artificial intelligence needs to be regulated'

Google CEO: 'Artificial intelligence needs to be regulated'
© Greg Nash

Google CEO Sundar Pichai is calling for governments around the world to regulate artificial intelligence, saying the sensitive technology should not be used to "support mass surveillance or violate human rights."

However, Pichai — the top executive at Google as well as its parent company Alphabet — also argued that governments should not go too far as they work to rein in high-stakes technologies like facial recognition and self-driving vehicles. 

His speech in Europe and companion op-ed come as Europe weighs new ethics rules for artificial intelligence and the White House urges a light-touch approach to regulating technology. 

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"There is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated," Pichai wrote in the Financial Times. "It is too important not to. The only question is how to approach it."  

Since 2018 Google has touted its AI principles as a potential framework for government regulation. The guidelines urge tech companies to ensure artificial intelligence technologies incorporate privacy features, contribute to the greater social good and do not reflect "unfair" human biases.

Critics have pushed back on the tech industry's stated support for AI regulation, claiming the companies are trying to dictate the terms of regulation in their own favor.

"Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms, especially in high-risk areas, with social opportunities," Pichai wrote.

Governments around the world have found themselves behind the curve as artificial intelligence advances at lightning speed, opening up new frontiers for potential regulation. Several cities in the U.S. have taken the lead by imposing all-out bans on facial recognition technology, which often misidentifies people of color at higher rates. 

Pichai has thrown his support behind a temporary ban on facial recognition technology, which he says can be used for "nefarious" purposes.

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"I think it is important that governments and regulations tackle it sooner rather than later and give a framework for it,” Pichai said at a conference in Brussels this week. “It can be immediate, but maybe there’s a waiting period before we really think about how it’s being used. ... It’s up to governments to chart the course.”

Microsoft has also released its own ideas around how to regulate facial recognition tech, and says it abides by a strict set of AI ethics standards.

In 2018, Pichai spent his speech in Davos, Switzerland, touting the enormous potential of artificial intelligence, presenting a rosier view of the technology before it experienced an intense backlash over the past several years.

Now, as Europe and the U.S. creep closer to instituting rules around many of the products that Google creates, Pichai is raising his voice around what he sees as the best approach to AI.

"Google’s role starts with recognizing the need for a principled and regulated approach to applying AI, but it doesn’t end there," Pichai wrote. "We want to be a helpful and engaged partner to regulators as they grapple with the inevitable tensions and trade-offs. We offer our expertise, experience and tools as we navigate these issues together."