Why Google’s Sergey Brin changed his tune on AI

Google's co-founder admits he didn't pay attention to AI in the 1990s because he didn't think it would work, but has since reconsidered

Google co-founder Sergey Brin acknowledges that he was caught off-guard by the phenomenon of artificial intelligence, which he notes now permeates key Google properties.

Speaking at the recent World Economic Forum Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Brin, a trained computer scientist, said he didn't pay attention to AI in the 1990s because "everyone knew [AI] didn't work," he said.

Brin was head of the Google X research group, which featured Google Brain, a project centered on machine intelligence, he recalled. "Fast-forward a few years, and now Brain probably touches every single one of our main projects, ranging from search to photos to ads to everything we do."

The revolution in deep nets has "been very profound and definitely surprised me even though I was like right in there," said Brin, now president of Google parent company Alphabet. "It's an incredible time and it's very hard to forecast what can these things do? We really don't know the limits," Brin said. Looking forward to the future, it is hard thing to think through, with the incredible possibilities, he added. "I think it's impossible to forecast accurately."

Google Brain research areas include machine learning algorithms and techniques, computer systems for machine learning, natural language understanding, and machine perception, as well as health care, robotics, and music and art generation. The group features Jeff Dean, a Google senior fellow who Brin recalled trying to impress upon him the possibilities of AI when Brin was still skeptical. "I'd say, OK that's very nice, Jeff, do your thing, whatever," after Dean showed him a computer-drawn picture of a cat.

Google has offered its open source Tensorflow library for machine learning and neural networks. The company also has partnered with Intel for machine learning and offered data sets for it.

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