the robots are coming

Google Is Building an Ethics Board to Oversee Its Robot Takeover

Google’s next CEO. Photo: Shutterstock

This weekend, Google shelled out a lot of money for a London-based robotics company called DeepMind. The deal, which Re/code values at around $400 million, is primarily a talent acquisition. Google has been scooping up robotics and AI start-ups for months now, and DeepMind, run by a former child chess prodigy, will add to its stable of AI engineers.

As part of the deal, the Information reports, DeepMind asked Google to establish an “ethics board” to prevent the abuse of the AI technology it had developed. Google wanted DeepMind badly enough, so it agreed.

There are all kinds of strategic questions to ask about Google’s push into artificial intelligence. What kind of AI could Google use for ad-targeting purposes? How much experimentation are shareholders willing to support before actual AI products are brought to market? Was the Nest acquisition a part of the same effort as the robotics start-ups, or something different?

But to me, the wild part about the DeepMind deal is the presumption of ill intent on Google’s part. Once upon a time, Google’s motto was “Don’t Be Evil,” and people more or less assumed they meant it. Now, start-ups selling themselves into Google’s clutches are doing so only under the condition that Google promises it isn’t up to no good. What a difference a decade makes.

Google Is Building a Robot Ethics Board