Robot shaking hands with judge near gavel showing the need for AI regulation
Google CEO Sundar Pichai Pitches for AI Regulation

Google CEO Sundar Pichai Pitches for AI Regulation

In a surprising turn of events, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has advocated for AI regulation. These comments appeared on an op-ed on Financial Times where Pichai wrote, “There is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. It is too important not to. The only question is how to approach it.”

The tech company’s CEO made similar remarks during the Bruegel conference in Brussels. Pichai noted that certain areas of AI development such as self-driving cars and health technologies required regulation. He said that it was risky to build promising new technology and let market forces decide on their appropriate use.

Google’s AI regulation guidelines

Google’s AI regulation stems from the previous misuse of its technology in Project Maven, where Google’s object recognition technology could have been used to enhance drone strikes. This led to protests from the company’s employees leading to the company taking a different position on the use of its technology. Since then, Google decided not to get involved in the creation of technologies that would harm people or contribute to the infringement of human rights. In his latest remarks, Pichai noted that any effective AI regulation framework should prioritize safety, explainability, accountability, and fairness. It must also consider the balance of potential harm with social opportunities in high-risk areas. Although Google CEO shows support for AI regulation, neither his speech at Brussels nor his op-ed piece outlines ways of achieving this.

Current AI regulation efforts

Various governments have taken several AI regulation actions. The European Commission, through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), was considering a five year ban on facial recognition technology in public places by both public and private organizations until there were proper guidelines for AI regulation. The chief executive for Google lauded the EU model as a foundation for future AI regulation.

The White House had earlier announced its approach towards AI regulation which involves a hands-off approach in AI regulation. Apart from government regulation, self-regulation was also important according to Maria Axente who is the AI lead at Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

Google had formed its own AI ethics board to oversee the process although it was shut down a few months after the controversy surrounding some of the members. Even if such regulations exist, implementing them is a major challenge. Pichai rightfully pointed out that having the rules on paper are meaningless.

AI concerns

Pichai pointed out various concerns, which, if left unchecked would have adverse effects on people’s lives. The search engine’s CEO indicated that, without AI regulation, technologies such as deep fakes pose the risk of spreading misinformation. Pichai was also concerned that the misuse of technologies such as facial recognition would endanger people’s rights and freedoms. Google has already limited the use of facial recognition features in most of its APIs.

Other companies’ views on AI regulation

Other tech companies such as Microsoft have also chimed in on the need for AI regulation. The Redmond company argued that the use of facial recognition in public places would fan the flames of discrimination against targeted communities.  The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) whose membership includes Google, Amazon, Facebook, Mozilla, Intel, and Uber responded to the European Commission requesting a targeted AI regulation intervention using a risk-based assessment instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.

Although Google and other major companies are rooting for AI regulation, such attempts can only be welcome with cautious optimism. In some cases, the regulation of an industry helps market leaders cement their position by stifling newcomers in the field. Google has been hit with several multimillion dollar fines by European regulatory agencies for abusing its dominant position to kill off competition. In addition, Many companies also involve themselves in doublespeak by campaigning for a given policy while practicing the opposite. For example, Google spent over $150 million in lobbying and none of it was directed to lobbying for more AI regulation. It is possible that Google might be trying to appease regulatory authorities after the reappointment of EU’s competition regulator Margrethe Vestager who has been highly critical of the company’s practices. Consequently, Pichai might just be looking out for his company.