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Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

Sundar Pichai
Google Inc. Chief Executive Sundar Pichai addresses students during a forum at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur on Jan. 5.
(Chandan Khanna / AFP/Getty Images)

Google’s chief executive called Monday for a balanced approach to regulating artificial intelligence, telling a European audience that the technology brings benefits but also “negative consequences.”

Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider placing limits on how artificial intelligence is used.

“There is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. The question is how best to approach this,” Pichai said, according to a transcript of his speech at a Brussels think tank.

He said there’s an important role for governments to play and that as the European Union and the U.S. start drawing up their own approaches to regulation, “international alignment” of any eventual rules will be critical. He did not provide specific proposals.

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Pichai spoke on the same day he was scheduled to meet the EU’s powerful competition regulator, Margrethe Vestager. She’s also due to meet Microsoft President Brad Smith separately on Monday.

Vestager in previous years has hit the Silicon Valley giant with multibillion-dollar fines for allegedly abusing its market dominance to choke off competition. After being reappointed for a second term last autumn with expanded powers over digital technology policies, Vestager now has her sights on artificial intelligence and is drawing up rules on its ethical use.

Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology. Vestager and the EU have been the among the more aggressive regulators of big tech firms, an approach U.S. authorities have accelerated with investigations into the dominance of companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon.

“Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities,” Pichai said, adding that it could incorporate existing standards such as Europe’s tough General Data Protection Regulation rather than starting from scratch.

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Though artificial intelligence promises big benefits, he raised concerns about its potential downside, citing as one example its role in facial recognition technology, which can be used to find missing persons but also for “nefarious reasons” that he didn’t specify.

In 2018, Google pledged not to use AI in applications related to weapons, surveillance that violates international norms, or actions that go against human rights.

Pichai was also scheduled on Monday to meet Frans Timmermans, the EU commissioner overseeing the European Green Deal, the bloc’s plan to fight climate change by making the continent carbon-neutral by 2050, including through technology. He’ll then head to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week.


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