AI beating humans? Not in my lifetime, says Google's cloud chief

The so-called singularity is still some ways away, says Diane Greene

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Diane Greene, senior vice president of Google, speaks at the Code Enterprise conference in San Francisco on November 15, 2016. Credit: Martyn Williams

The head of Google's cloud business says she doesn't expect machine intelligence to exceed that of humans during her lifetime, despite recent rapid progress that has surprised many.

Diane Greene, who turns 61 this year, said that while researchers are making strides in programming intelligence into computers, there's still a long way to go.

"There is a lot that machine learning doesn’t do that humans can do really, really well," she said on Tuesday at the Code Enterprise conference in San Francisco.

Her remarks came hours after Google said Greene's division had hired two leading machine learning and artificial intelligence experts: Fei-Fei Li, who was director of AI at Stanford University, and Jia Li, who headed up research at Snap, the operator of SnapChat.

"Nobody expected some of the advances we are seeing as quickly as we’re seeing them," she said, "but, the singularity i don’t see it in my sentient lifetime."

Greene had been asked to evaluate, on a scale from one to ten, how close the industry was to "the singularity" -- the moment, forecast by technologist Ray Kurzweil, when machine intelligence would go beyond that of humans.

Greene never got around to putting a number on the current state of research. But she did acknowledge that some people would lose their jobs as machine learning became more useful.

"I think it’s really incumbent on us to get the education out there to make sure everyone is digitally literate, because that’s where the divide is, and because if you’re digitally literate, you’re going to have jobs," she said.

At least for now, there aren't enough qualified people in the job market for the number of research jobs available, but that situation's unlikely to last, so Silicon Valley is being asked tough questions about where this push into machine intelligence will take the world.

Greene said the industry was taking the matter seriously but offered only small efforts to solve it, like supplying Chromebooks to schools.

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