Applying our AI research to help enrich the lives of billions of people around the world

Building useful products with new technologies has always been one of my greatest joys. As a boy, I’d spend hours connecting resistors, capacitors, and other electronic components with wires. First I’d assemble a Morse code circuit. Then dissemble the circuit, reusing its wires and components to build a timer. And then take the timer apart and build an amplifier. Analog electronic components provided the perfect toolkit for young minds, like mine, to build and create.

Soon I was designing processing chips at my first summer job at Marconi, the telecoms giant. And this led to studying electronics and software at university, where, on lab days, we’d build circuit boards for radio receivers. Now, we have pocket-sized computers and colossal data centres – all connected by light-speed communications – running powerful software for the benefit of businesses, communities, and consumers across the globe.

But it’s artificial intelligence (AI) that holds the greatest potential for humanity. This technology learns and iterates, with an ability to solve problems at every turn. When combined with human ingenuity and direction, AI could discover new solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges, at a speed and a scale that was previously unimaginable.

AI isn’t hype – it’s perhaps the ultimate general-purpose tool. As chief business officer (CBO) of one of the world’s leading AI companies, I see and feel, every day, how this technology can enrich the lives of billions of people around the world.

Finding the best ways to use AI for building helpful products is a key focus of my work and life today. It’s frequently a topic of conversation at my external engagements with business leaders, product people, and engineers – like my upcoming luminary keynote at this week’s AI Hardware Summit.

Taking research out of the lab

My main focus as CBO is on taking our cutting-edge research breakthroughs and matching our technologies to solving everyday business problems. This intersection is phenomenally exciting since in many cases, we’re working in uncharted territory, introducing tools that hold the promise of solving problems for billions of people around the world.

I’m often asked, as a future-facing research organisation, why it’s important to work on global challenges that impact people every day? One of the things (but not the only thing!) that makes DeepMind so special is our ability to bridge leading AI research to hundreds, if not thousands, of AI-ready problems that impact billions of people.

We’ve been creating one of the largest libraries of AI solutions in the world, and our parent company, Alphabet, has an amazing marketplace of problems to solve. Together, we’re able to focus on the hardest technical challenges with the biggest pay-offs, creating useful products that help billions of people in the moments that matter.

For instance, we’ve helped extend the battery life of phones for Android’s operating systems, used by over a billion people every day. This can be a lifesaver, especially in times of need. It’s been one of the most universally requested problems to solve, and will become increasingly important as we move to a cleaner, greener world.

One of the greatest challenges and opportunities of working in this space is finding ways to leverage AI’s potential while ensuring that our work is safe, ethical, and inclusive at every stage, from research and development through to application and impact.

In recent years, we’ve gone from talking about the potential of our work to actually benefiting billions of people on a daily basis. And now we’re at the stage where we’re applying AI to Nobel Prize-level problems in science and society.

Benefitting people’s lives at scale

But with so much potential, where does one start? To make sure our work is being applied in the most effective ways possible, we start by searching for core, transformational challenges that, if solved, could help tackle many other efficiencies across a wide array of problems.

One of our most prominent examples of this is AlphaFold, our AI system that can accurately predict protein structures, the building blocks of life. With this system, we helped solve this 50-year-old grand challenge in biology, which is now helping scientists around the world advance their work.

We’ve also been working in areas like sustainability, particularly looking at the ways AI can help optimise the production and consumption of energy. For instance, we’ve created an AI system that can control plasma in the nuclear fusion process, which could lead to safer, cleaner energy production. We’ve also helped reduce energy consumption in Google’s enormous data centres, improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions. These advances are game changers for how energy can be managed and used in society.

Similarly, MuZero has shown so much potential for saving time and energy at scale. It was initially built to progress gaming intelligence and is now helping enhance the YouTube experience. Nearly seven hundred thousand hours of content are viewed on YouTube every minute. This is an astonishing amount of web traffic. By optimising the ways videos are compressed, for example, we’ve reduced data and energy use and helped increase access to video content across the world.

Looking to the future

AI is undoubtedly the most transformative technology of our time. This exceptional promise also requires exceptional care. Anticipating potential impacts of a technology as general and transformative as AI is really difficult, and so careful consideration is essential.

For this reason, we’ve devised a long-term scientific roadmap to help guide our research. And as we go along this journey, we’re continuously assessing the long-term impact of our work to make sure it’s being deployed in a safe and responsible way.

We need to have the smartest minds working on things carefully, step by step. This is too big, too important to move fast and break things, which is why pioneering responsibly is at the heart of everything that we do.

It’s incredibly inspiring to be able to really connect with the vast range of problems that our work helps to solve, and the potential to have enormous benefits for humanity, with our access to billions of people around the world. For me, that combination is truly extraordinary.

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