Transcript

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to another in our Brief But Spectacular series.

Tonight, we hear from Sebastian Thrun. He's an adjunct professor at Stanford University and the founder of Udacity, an online educational organization. He founded Google X, the semi-secret research facility that began development of Google's self-driving car.

SEBASTIAN THRUN, Founder, Google X: Artificial intelligence is to the human brain what the steam engine has been to the human muscle.

Before the agricultural revolution, most of us were farmers, and our distinguishing capabilities were our physical strength and agility. And then we invented machines that make us stronger and, all of a sudden, one farmer can make food for 150 people.

And this has unleashed a flurry of amazing innovations, like airplanes, cell phones, jobs you never heard of like software engineer or TV anchor, all these wonderful things. That is about to change once again.

I think we're going to look back and find that driving a car is just like the same way the Middle Ages look from today's perspective. We kill over a million people every year in this world using traffic accidents.

And that's an intolerably high number. We text, we make phone calls, we're fatigued, we're sometimes even drunk when driving and all this stuff. A self-driving car doesn't text, it doesn't fatigue, it looks in all directions, it's never drunk, and it emerges as a safe alternative to human driving.

I have a 9-year-old. I would love to put him in a driverless car and say, go to school on your own. And he would love it, because it would give him the ability to go around and organize his own play dates.

I think every technology comes with its risks and with its possibility for abuse. I mean, you can take a kitchen knife, and you can cut your food, or you can kill somebody or hurt somebody with the same knife. And the same is true for every technology we invent.

So, I think what's important is that we approach these technologies with responsibility. The next generation of technology is going to be called artificial intelligence. And we're going to have an I.Q. of 10,000. We're going to be able to solve every problem and know everything there is to know just by using A.I.

My students and I recently did work on artificial intelligence for detecting skin cancer, and we found that if we train an artificial intelligence with about 130,000 images, we can find skin cancer basically using an iPhone as accurately as the best board-certified dermatologist.

And that's sensational, because now we can take the skill of a Stanford doctor and bring that skill to the entire world by a platform that everybody already has, which is a smartphone.

Every time I talk through my phone — and it's probably about an hour a day — it could analyze my speech and thereby find things like Alzheimer's much, much, much earlier than we find it today.

And that's exciting, because it would mean we would be able to cure and treat those diseases at a stage when they're often still curable.

I can tell you, when I started working on self-driving cars more than 10 years ago, most of my professor colleagues told me it's impossible and I'm wasting my time and possibly my career.

When you look at the Wright brothers, 100 years ago, the world's experts had come together and concluded that it's impossible, there will not be such a thing as flight.

So, when you go forward, why can't we cure all of cancer? Why can't we cure heart failure and heart diseases? And why can't cars fly in the future? Why do they have to be on the ground?

I mean, all these things, when you think through it, the answer might be very different from what the past tells us.

My name is Sebastian Thrun, and this is my Brief, But hopefully Spectacular take on imaging the future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sebastian Thrun.