GOOGLE AI- GOOGLE CEO SUNDAR Pichai brought good tidings to investors on parent company Alphabet’s earnings call last week. Alphabet reported $39.3 billion in revenue last quarter, up 22 percent from a year earlier. Pichai gave some of the credit to Google’s machine learning technology, saying it had figured out how to match ads more closely to what consumers wanted.
One thing Pichai didn’t mention: Alphabet is now cautioning investors that the same AI technology could create ethical and legal troubles for the company’s business. The warning appeared for the first time in the “Risk Factors” segment of Alphabet’s latest annual report, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission the following day:
“[N]ew products and services, including those that incorporate or utilize artificial intelligence and machine learning, can raise new or exacerbate existing ethical, technological, legal, and other challenges, which may negatively affect our brands and demand for our products and services and adversely affect our revenues and operating results.”
Companies must use the risk factors portion of their annual filings to disclose foreseeable troubles to investors. That’s supposed to keep the free market operating. It also provides companies a way to defuse lawsuits claiming management hid potential problems.
It’s not clear why Alphabet’s securities lawyers decided it was time to warn investors of the risks of smart machines. Google declined to elaborate on its public filings. The company began testing self-driving cars on public roads in 2009, and has been publishing research on ethical questions raised by AI for several years.