back to article AI 'more profound than fire', Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai tells rich folks' talking shop

Never one to hide its light under a bushel, Google came out swinging with some seriously inflated technology claims at the World Economic Forum last week. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet, told the rich people's talking shop: "AI is one of the most profound things we are working on as humanity, it is more …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    AI 'more profound than fire'

    That sounds like the ironic precursor to an Alphabet data centre burning to the ground.

    1. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: AI 'more profound than fire'

      I'll file this with Guglielmo Marconi's 1912's uttering that “The coming of the wireless era will make war impossible, because it will make war ridiculous.”

      1. John 104

        Re: AI 'more profound than fire'

        Well, war IS ridiculous...

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: AI 'more profound than fire'

          Yes, but it that hasn't stopped it... :(

    2. HildyJ Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: AI 'more profound than fire'

      When you make Elon sound more believable, prescient, and reasonable, you need to talk to your speechwriters.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: AI 'more profound than fire'

      Be sure you use the right fire extinguisher - one rated for A, B, or C fires and not Lith-X...

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: AI 'more profound than fire'

        Make sure you only use a red one if it's a paper/wood fire, never use a red one on oil/electrical....

        Oh wait, somebody decreed that they all be red now.

    4. big_D Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: AI 'more profound than fire'

      So, we'll take fire away from Sundar and see how far he gets in manufacturing those AI chips, shall we?

  2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
    FAIL

    AI impact greater than fire

    Can only be true if it destroys us. Which means human induced climate change might be able to eventually make that claim. AI, only if Black Mirror is prescient.

    1. David Bond

      Re: AI impact greater than fire

      "Can only be true if it destroys us. Which means human induced climate change might be able to eventually make that claim."

      Which leads back to what????

      FIRE.

      So fire has brought us out of the depths and if climate change gets us, fire would be the thing that killed us.

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: AI impact greater than fire

        With great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, we humans as a whole aren't exactly good at "responsibility".

        1. Chris G Silver badge

          Re: AI impact greater than fire

          "With great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, we humans as a whole aren't exactly good at "responsibility"."

          Certainly not if that responsibility interferes with whatever a decent profit is nowadays.

  3. LDS Silver badge
    Devil

    "AI is one of the most profound things we are working on as humanity"

    "So, please, don't stop us making the next great ads-slinger engine by introducing rules to manage the ethical implications of machine learning...."

    1. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: "AI is one of the most profound things we are working on as humanity"

      Profund is an odd word to use, and perhaps he meant it in the sense of "having intellectual depth and insight". I'm not sure even this works, since understanding the nature of oxidation chemistry and electricity also require those things.

  4. ITMA

    "AI is one of the most profound things we are working on as humanity, it is more profound than fire or electricity or any of the other bigger things we have worked on"

    Well considering AI requires electricity to work, and most electricity is (still) generated by fire (burning gas/coal/oil) I think not.

    Also we can have both fire and electricity quite independent of each other (if we want) all without the aid of AI.

    Most "alternative" ways of generating electricity depend upon material which need fire in their production. So given that AI can't exist without fire AND electricity, NO... It's not more profound...

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      What he actually meant to say was that AI statistical analysis machines have the potential to make him more money than he ever thought existed, so it is the most important thing ever invented in his mind.

      The fact that our modern society relies on electricity, not on AI, is lost to him.

    2. Spanners Silver badge
      Boffin

      @ITMA

      most electricity is (still) generated by fire (burning gas/coal/oil)

      I have an APP on my phone that tells me what is currently making mt electricity. (Grid Carbon Intensity)

      GAS - 38.8%

      Coal - 4%

      Oil - 0%

      That comes to 42.8% so it isn't most.

      There is an item called Biomass on the list but that is 6.6% so it is still not a majority. I assume that Biomass is burning something anyway.

      At other times the figures have been much better.

      Conclusion: Burning stuff for electricity is a lot more than it should be but it's getting better.

      1. ITMA

        Re: @ITMA

        But that is assuming of course that your "electricity generation" is typical of the whole planet.

        This source says somewhat different:

        https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics?country=WORLD&fuel=Energy%20supply&indicator=Electricity%20generation%20by%20source

        "World electricity generation by source in 2017. Total generation was 26 TWh."

        Coal (38%)

        Natural Gas (23%)

        Hydro (16%)

        Nuclear (10%)

        Wind (4%)

        Oil (3%)

        Solar (2%)

        Biofuels (2%)

        Other (2%)

        Given that in their figures coal accounts for the majority (38%) I seriously doubt that between 2017 and now it has dropped by that much (down to just 4%).

      2. ITMA

        Re: @ITMA

        In fact for the most up to date breakdown (it fluctuates):

        https://www.iea.org/reports/monthly-oecd-electricity-statistics

        For October 2019 out of about 825 TWh "combustibles" - burning stuff (coal, gas and others) - accounts for 484 TWh. That works out at almost 59%.

        I think I would rather go be the IEA's figures that what the app on your phone says.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: @ITMA

        "have an APP on my phone that tells me what is currently making mt electricity. "

        Does it count your personal electrons?

      4. IGotOut Silver badge

        Re: @ITMA

        "GAS - 38.8%

        Coal - 4%

        Oil - 0%"

        And on a dark windless night?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re. So given that AI can't exist without fire AND electricity

      ... it's made of WOOD!

  5. Oh Homer
    Terminator

    Internet 2.0

    Can't remember which article (there's probably been a few), but I seem to recall a few commentaries to the effect that the Internet didn't quite turn out to be the utopia it was expected to be. Yes, there's a few plus points, take El Reg for example, but if we're being brutally honest it's probably an overall negative. Between fake news, Cambridge Analytica style manipulation, paywalls, identity theft, ransomware, spam, adware, e-commerce globalisation destroying small businesses and the high street, data harvesting, privacy violation, NSA warrantless mass surveillance, and the cesspool of human scum that anonymously pervades social networks, the Internet isn't really all it's cracked up to be.

    I have a feeling that AI will be a similar story, except this time we're jaded enough to anticipate the dangers in advance.

    Mostly I suspect it'll just end up being used for more precisely targetted spam, via profiling. And of course that same profiling will inevitably be abused by paranoid three-letter agencies to target "terrorists" (i.e. anyone who dares to disagree with our Corporatocratic regime's increasingly Draconian policies).

    As for positive use cases, I'm not hopeful.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Internet 2.0

      Considering the potential that IT and the internet held for the world in it's early days and the reality of what's actually here, I think AI will boil down to having a chat with a vending machine while buying your first coffee of the day. Probably the AI's responses will have been learned from a data set provided from 30 years of the Daily Mail.

    2. IGotOut Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Re: Internet 2.0

      " e-commerce globalisation destroying small businesses and the high street, "

      I HATE, this blame the internet for killing the high street bollocks. The high street was killed off a long time ago, by shopping "malls", retail parks and large identikit chain stores. The high streets became bland and indistinguishable from one town to another. What we are now seeing those same town centre killers, being culled by another.

      My two nearest towns are thriving. They never had the big retail parks, very few chain stores and are quite a distance from the nearest shopping centre. They are packed full of independent shops, restaurants and pubs.

      So save me the sob stories. The more of the "High St" chains it kills of the better, allowing once again the little indie shops to step in.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well then if that is the case Sundar hands off the technology - Alphabet has recognized that it does not belong in private hands.

  7. ChipsforBreakfast
    Mushroom

    Come with me if you want to live…

    There's still time to build that bunker before August 29th...

  8. Ordinary Donkey

    Neanderthalers warn Fire Brigade plan "Stifles Innovation"

    Today the founder of PyrosRUs, Ug, issued stone carvings carrying stern warning about the threat to the fire industry if new fire safety rules are introduced.

    "I don't accept these claims that fire is dangerous." grunted Ug, "Without the freedom to set fires where and when we wish there might be nothing for dinner tonight and who wants that? Sure some people have burned themselves but they weren't me so that's okay. If I want to light a cooking fire in the base of a tree that's a wonderful opportunity to investigate the warming potential of several different tree species all in one go."

    Sadly Ug was then eaten by a sabre tooth tiger attracted to the light of his campfire. To add insult to injury it ate him raw.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Neanderthalers warn Fire Brigade plan "Stifles Innovation"

      Neandertals? Habilis corpus.

  9. batfink Silver badge

    The usual question...

    Was he actually talking about AI, or just machine-learning-driven statistical analysis as usual?

    One could be important. The other is just a more efficient way to do what we do today.

    Although tbf I expect argument that what humans call "intelligence" is just statistical analysis anyway...

  10. iron Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Printing

    Without printing we would have had no way to pass knowledge from one generation to the next other than by oral tradition. So without printing we would not have advanced beyond medieval science and would have no electricity, no computers, no Internet, no Google (maybe we would have been better off?) and therefore no AI.

    Sorry Sundar but you're wrong.

    1. love not war

      Re: Printing

      People could *write* before the advent of printing.

      1. defiler Silver badge

        Re: Printing

        That's very true, and without writing printing may never have come about, but printing democratised writing by making the written (printed) word cheap enough to distribute that it was worth the proles learning to read.

        And then you have a knowledge / information explosion.

        Prior to printing, written manuscripts were very labour intensive (expensive), so not worth distributing amongst the plebs because they'd probably just use them to light their fires (all the time lamenting that it wouldn't be as profound as AI).

  11. SVV Silver badge

    I am the God of Hellfire and I bring you......

    targeted advertising algorithms

  12. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Maybe he needs to work on developing real intelligence.

  13. holmegm Bronze badge

    "Viewers of the slightly unhinged "Peloton wife" promotional video may beg to differ."

    The only thing that was unhinged was the "woke" reactions to it.

    "Well-off woman who is into fitness gets a pricey fitness gift; uses it."

    Horrors!

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Haven't seen the ad but anything that gets cyclists off the streets can't be bad however reassuringly expensive it is.

  14. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Meh

    How many was can you say 'MEH' ?

    see title

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    AI 'more profound than fire'

    bestest clickbait EVER! :)

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    AI, on the other hand, tells you what film you'll want to watch next

    nevertheless, at some point, if it acquires self-awareness, on top of intelligence, it might decide that [once it's ready] it's gonna help us "save the planet" by removing the main culprit (and there's such a wide range of ways, all deployable at the same time). Can't w

  17. Paul Herber Silver badge

    I want nasally-ingested fire with my AI, and what about this wheel thingy, sounds very exciting. Can AI work out what colour it should be?

  18. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge
    Flame

    Please God... not HCL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ""It is critical that the IT Industry remains a beacon of responsible leadership," said Vijayakumar"

    Whilst the article itself does pay homage to the irony of this statement, I do think it's worth calling out clearly that he is obviously either totally deluded, or so far removed from the day to day running of HCL to not realise that what their salesmen "shill" and what they actually deliver are at totally polar opposites of the customer expectations spectrum.

    They are, by a large margin, the most useless, pitiful and inept SI that I've ever had the misfortune of running into (twice) in my almost 30 year IT career. I thought Wipro were bad, but they look almost reasonable compared to HCL.

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