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Eric Schmidt's AI dream? A 'Not-Eric' to do his bidding

Alphabet's executive chairman expects that artificial intelligence will help with both personal tasks and the world's "hard problems."

Eric Schmidt
Would Not-Eric look like Eric Schmidt?
Stephanie Pilick/dpa/Corbis

Suddenly, everybody wants an AI helpmate.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, on Monday gave a glimpse into his dream of owning an aide de camp powered by artificial intelligence. In Schmidt's vision, there would be co-existence between "Eric" (himself) and "Not-Eric" ("this digital thing that helps me"), Bloomberg reports.

Schmidt, who spoke at a conference in New York, follows in the footsteps of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who just last week outlined his next personal challenge: writing the software code for his own AI butler to help him around the house and office.

Both Alphabet and Facebook have made no secret of their interest in developing technologies that perform complex thinking tasks. But what we can glean from insights into the desires of their leaders is the extent to which they believe AI will impact our daily lives. And it's not just about having robotic butler answer your door and welcome in your friends, a la Zuckerberg's goal.

"The promise of this is so profound that we -- Alphabet, Google, whatever our name is at the moment -- are working incredibly hard to advance these platforms," Schmidt said. From being at our beck and call to solving the "hard problems" of the world, there's nothing true artificial intelligence won't be able to handle, he said, professing his belief that AI will tackle issues such as climate change, education and population growth.

Google, before it reorganized itself into Alphabet last year, acquired three British artificial intelligence companies over the past two years, most notably DeepMind Technologies in 2014. DeepMind's mission is to "solve intelligence" by building machines that can think independently. Google's researchers are also working on cars that are smart enough to drive themselves.

It's still early days for AI, but Schmidt's desire for his own humanoid digital assistant may not be that far off, at least according to his own staff.

Ray Kurzweil, Google's director of engineering, has said he expects computers to have enough emotional intelligence to have a romantic relationship with a human by about 2029. Last year, Google Distinguished Researcher Geoffrey Hinton also said of a future AI assistant: "I don't see why it shouldn't be like a friend. I don't see why you shouldn't grow quite attached to them."