Sat, Feb 03, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Google’s AI drive creates plenty of people problems

AP, MENLO PARK, California

Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently declared that artificial intelligence (AI) fueled by powerful computers was more important to humanity than fire or electricity, and yet the search giant increasingly faces a variety of messy people problems as well.

The company has vowed to employ thousands of human checkers just to catch rogue YouTube posters, Russian bots and other purveyors of unsavory content.

It is also on a buying spree to find office space for its burgeoning workforce in pricey Silicon Valley.

For a company that built its success on using faceless algorithms to automate many human tasks, this focus on people presents something of a conundrum.

Yet, it is also a necessary one as lawmakers ramp up the pressure on Google to deter foreign powers from abusing its platforms and its YouTube unit draws fire for offensive videos, particularly ones aimed at younger audiences.

In the latest quarter alone, Google parent Alphabet Inc added 2,009 workers, for a total of 80,110. Over the past three years, it hired a net 2,245 people per quarter on average. That is nearly 173 per week, or 25 people per day.

Some of the extra workers this year will be part of Google’s pledge to have 10,000 people across the company snooping out videos and other material that violate the company’s policies — but which computers cannot catch on their own.

That program will lead to what Google calls “significant growth” in personnel.

Google will take on even more workers in the current quarter now that it has closed its US$1.1 billion purchase of part of Taiwanese hardware maker HTC Corp (宏達電), bringing onboard the more than 2,000 engineers who worked on the Pixel smartphone line.

Revenue at Google parent Alphabet Inc rose 24 percent from a year ago to US$32.32 billion in the last three months of last year.

After subtracting advertising commissions, revenue was US$25.87 billion, exceeding Wall Street forecasts of US$25.65 billion.

However, the company swung to from a US$5.33 billion profit a year earlier to a US$3 billion loss, reflecting a recent US federal tax overhaul.

The company intends to hire “thousands of people across the US” this year, build or open five new data centers and make “significant investments” in nine states, Pichai said.

The company used the earnings report to announce it had named board member and former Stanford University president John Hennessy as chairman, replacing Eric Schmidt, who announced his departure in December last year.

Hennessy has been a board member since 2004 and lead independent director since April 2007.

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