Sergey Brin on AI in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

World Economic Forum

Schwab and Brin

Technology is moving so rapidly that what was considered science fiction just a year ago is now a reality so where are the edges, the next frontiers of the fourth industrial revolution?

Sergey starts his answer by suggesting we doubt him. When he was heading up Google X one of the projects was called Google brain, an AI effort and he didn't pay any attention to it at all. He was trained as a computer scientist in the 90s and everyone knew neural networks didn't work. Occasionally one of the researchers would present their findings and say look the machine learnt what a cat is then they went away without further consideration.

Now AI is touching almost every single application from search to photos to advertisements. The deep net research is having a profound effect and it's very hard if not impossible to forecast accurately, we don't know the limits.


It definitely requires a lot of thought.

  • How do we deal with displaced jobs due to increased automation?
  • How will AI affect society, the economy and social order?

Medical Impacts

We can look at health from a couple of perspectives, we can focus on individual diseases like cancer and Parkinson's in an effort to understand them so we can develop specific treatments.

Or we can focus on fundamental research like genomics and CRISPR which impacts all diseases.

Perhaps we should focus on smarter software like machine learning that can discover new patterns in the data and impacts not only biology but the economy, electronics and astronomy.

When you invest in these lower levels of research that span the gamut of human endeavours, you get a multiplier effect. You still need to do the biology, understand the individual diseases and treat individual people.

That requires big data and tools which are advancing quickly in biology and medicine.

Brain Implants

A lot of possibilities are imaginable like having brain implants that allow you to be aware of how an audience is feeling or the ability to upload your mind to a collective. It can't be predicted.

When the internal combustion engine was being developed along side electricity it's possible that we would be driving electric cars today but for whatever reason the internal combustion path was chosen.

  • What does it mean to be an individual in society?
  • Where are we going long time?

We aren't equipped to answer these questions.

Prescriptive AI

Is it possible that as machines become good at making predictions that we become complacent and start using them to prescribe solutions, is it imaginable that we no longer have elections because the machines already know the outcome?

These are profound questions. We have wants and desires that are quite different from past generations and we may continue to evolve.

Some choose to be Buddhist monks and find enlightenment through spirituality, people find meaning differently. 100 years from now the thinking, the rational and desires could be completely different that they are unrecognisable.

What is the purpose of our life?

Technology alleviates many of the burdens of life that allow us to think more deeply about who we are and what we seek.

New Governance

With new technology the existing forms of governance become impractical and lead to new regulatory agencies. Having a government commission produce findings five years later is no longer acceptable.

We need a much more agile interaction between business, regulators and civil society.

The level of enlightenment in conversation between politicians, business leaders and social entrepreneurs is incredible. That kind of collaborative interaction will lead to quick success.

Often times the relationship between government and business is antagonistic which is unhealthy.

Future Jobs And Skills

A lot of this antagonism comes from jobs being destroyed and people have difficulty seeing the jobs of the future.

As technology replaces more mundane tasks people need to find new creative ways of spending their time. For decades a job meant going to the office shuffling paper and performing tasks which are no longer required. People will need more creative thinking skills like incorporating aesthetic's.


This is where broad education is important. Providing the opportunity to be educated, having the resources available, the finances and being open minded for people to develop skills which aren't immediately obviously useful.

People need freedom to study and the financial opportunity to study
in a way that allows them to find meaning in their jobs.

The underlying concept for a more humane society is for people to make a transition from meaningless jobs to meaningful tasks.

The question is not whether we need another 5000 economists, the key is a reformation of the whole education system which is completely out of date.

A lot of the systems we have in place have so much inertia that they lag behind like education, insurance and health care. These systems are so embedded from a governance point of view and from an infrastructure point of view, that they are very hard to transform and update.

That's a challenge we should seek to overcome.

A lot of higher education is perceived to be expensive because of the infrastructure they have grown out of, the fancy classrooms and expensive buildings which aren't necessary. Education should be universally accessible to the postgraduate level.

Aversion To Silicon

A lot of success stems from the platform used.

When people don't have access to a platform or lack understanding of how to use it they can envy those that are succeeding, they can even form an aversion to use it.

Silicon valley has become very successful in a large part due to luck but also for taking many shots, many of which failed.

It was because Google brain was given a chance that it grew and succeeded.

The healthcare initiative Verily started from a glucose sensing contact lens project. A couple of researchers wanted to put a computer in contact lens. They weren't given a lot of resources because it was a long shot.

They are now doing serious studies and are in partnership with Avartis and Alcon and hopefully bring the results to the market along with a bunch of other projects that were spawned. That could not have been predicted and requires courage in tolerating the inevitable failures.

Advice for Young People

The future for an entrepreneur is not clear and many will advise against it. The important thing is to give it a shot because if it doesn't work out you can always try something else. It's that mentality that pervades silicon valley and it's not considered unusual to try things that fail.

In a lot of ways technology has made life for young people a lot easier but now they must perform on a global stage. No longer are they compared within their state but they measure themselves against the global elite. It can be discouraging.

Take a chance to pursue your dream, have fun and silence the dissenting voices. Don't let the expectations weigh you down.

We cannot address these issues that we confront in the world in purely rational ways. The world must digest the rapid changes which produce emotional turmoil. so we must respond with values and not just rational answers.

What Are Your Values

There are so many social issues:

  • income inequality
  • refugees
  • finding purpose
  • job creation

Companies should not be purely motivated by profit. Perhaps there is a way to embed social principles when companies are formed.

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