Yesterday, on World Happiness Day, 20 March, Mo Gawdat, Chief Business Officer of Google X (the innovation lab behind ‘moonshot’ technologies like self-driving cars) stepped down from his position to focus on the #OneBillionHappy project. The move, according to Gawdat, allows him to “speak openly about the risks associated with the current pace of technology development, particularly in the area of Artificial Intelligence (AI).”
In 2001, Mo realised that despite his huge success at work as a Google executive, he was desperately unhappy. He attacked the problem as an engineer would, examining all the provable facts and scrupulously applying logic to discover his own equation for happiness. Ten years later, Mo’s algorithm was put to the ultimate test. When his son, Ali, died during routine surgery, he turned to the equation which saved him from a life of despair. In dealing with the loss, Mo found his mission: he would pull off the type of moonshot that he was always aiming for at Google X: he would help ten million people become happier by pouring his principles into a book and spreading its message around the world.
That book was Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy, which published in 2017 to huge international success. Several of Mo’s PR interviews went viral online (see Channel 4 News UK; RTL Late Night) exceeding 100 million views and triggering millions of shares and likes as Solve for Happy fans took it upon themselves to spread the message.
“Within months it became clear that the #10MillionHappy mission I took on to honour the loss of my son Ali was overachieved,” says Gawdat. “And so I took the target up a notch to #OneBillionHappy. This new mission deserves my undivided dedication and accordingly I have decided to leave Google and make this my top priority.”
By 2029, it is predicted that AI machines will surpass human intelligence and reach ‘singularity’, a point at which humans will be unable to forecast what actions AI will take. By 2049, AI is predicted to be a billion more times intelligent than us. How do we contain these machines? “We don’t contain them at all,” argues Gawdat in his resignation video. “The best way to raise wonderful children is to be a wonderful parent.”
“How are the machines learning?” Gawdat continues. “They’re looking at all of the knowledge out there in the world and they’re building patterns from that. They’re learning by observing. And what are they observing? They’re observing a world that’s filled with greed, disregard for other species, violence, ego, showing off. The only way to get those machines to be not only intelligent but to also have the right value set is that we start to portray that right value set today.”
The problem is unhappiness, according to Gawdat, which today has never been higher. “This One Billion Happy mission is at the most pivotal time of humanitybecause those machines are going to be smarter than we are and they will be absorbing what we are putting out there. I’m leaving Google and I’m committing the rest of my life and my resources to this mission. If there are one billion of us telling the world that there is a better way to live, we will change the world forever.”