Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google and one of the most successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, says he did not foresee the artificial intelligence revolution that has transformed the tech industry.
“I didn’t pay attention to it at all, to be perfectly honest,” he said in a session at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos. “Having been trained as a computer scientist in the 90s, everybody knew that AI didn’t work. People tried it, they tried neural nets and none of it worked.”
Fast-forward a few years and Google Brain, the company’s AI research project, has advanced so much that it now, as Brin put it, “touches every single one of our main projects, ranging from search to photos to ads … everything we do.
“The revolution in deep nets has been very profound, it definitely surprised me, even though I was sitting right there.”
Where will AI take us?
Now that AI is here to stay, its future and potential uses have become even more difficult to predict.
“What can these things do? We don’t really know the limits,” said Brin. “It has incredible possibilities. I think it’s impossible to forecast accurately.”
In Davos for the first time in eight years, Brin also said that he’s shocked by the level of ambition surrounding the possibilities of where machine learning could take us. “I feel like the Luddite in the room,” he said.
AI is the natural continuation of the industrialization of the past 200 years, Brin added, but what does this mean for education, skills and employment?
This is also difficult to predict. “I would hope that, as some of the more mundane tasks are alleviated through technology, that people will find more and more creative and meaningful ways to spend their time,” Brin said.
“You do see more people that have been freed up over the last couple of hundred years to do work that is more about thinking about or creating things ... and I would hope to see that trend continue. It’s important for people to have freedom to study, financial opportunity to study, and to get meaning in addition to work being an important way in which we exchange money. People find profound meaning in their day-to-day jobs and that’s an important thing for us to preserve.”
A major part of Google’s success came from Silicon Valley’s willingness to accept failure, Brin added.
“The luck also comes from taking many shots. If I told you all the dumb things I did, we’d need to have a much longer session … We’re lucky to have the environment that tolerates making lots of risky bets and tolerates the failures that inevitably result.”
Finally, Brin said that anyone starting out as a young leader or entrepreneur should focus more on having fun than making money.
“I had no dreams of such economic success. You should have fun and not be so weighed down by expectations.”