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Artificial Intelligence and the Job Market

Engineer Director

In 2005, Dr. Daniel Clancy left a career in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), joining Google as engineer director for Google Book Search. He explained, “When I began studying, I thought about things like AI and parallel programming but chose AI because it lends itself to different disciplines, including cognitive science, computers, and even philosophy. AI attracted me because it was asking some interesting questions about intelligence.” Dr. Clancy received his Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin in 1997 and then sought a job in research. After some deliberation, he selected a position at NASA.

“When I joined, NASA was rebuilding their AI capabilities … I joined NASA during their remote agent experiment, the first sort of AI-appliance-based software that received a fair amount of notoriety. We put a team together to build the software architecture for the Cassini orbital insertion. In most space flights, there's a detailed command sequence, but if the environment behaves differently than expected, the command sequence could break. You'd need to start over again, which was problematic for robotic missions.”

Based on his success with Cassini, Dr. Clancy and his team went to work on Deep Space One, an experimental satellite. In addition to the AI technology to direct the satellite, it contained nine other experiments. “The idea was to give the spacecraft high-level goals,” Dr. Clancy said, “[and use AI to] let the spacecraft figure out for itself how to accomplish those goals, when to do [them], and [how to] maximize resources. System Health Management (SHM) was a [program] that included monitoring the spacecraft, finding a problem, and understanding how to handle recovery action.”

Soon after joining NASA, Dr. Clancy recognized he had a set of skills that extended beyond research, so he began seeking a role in management. “As opposed to being the person sitting there writing the code and figuring out algorithms, the contribution that most distinguished myself was [both my] technical skills [and] my ability to communicate and manage.”

His proposals on further uses of the SHM in the space shuttle led him to become a team leader; eventually he directed the Computer Sciences Division. There, he oversaw the work of more than 300 researchers, most of whom did AI work. Dr. Clancy said one of his biggest accomplishments was getting AI technology included in the Mars Rover mission. “After the mission,” he said, “scientists said they yielded 30 percent more information because our software led to greater efficiency aboard the craft.”

After seven years with NASA, Dr. Clancy recognized it might be time to move on; he felt he had done all he could within NASA. “I believe all of us are driven by the desire to have an impact in the world, on our lives, with our friends. One reason I went into research was a leveraged impact. My leveraged impact was as much managing and building strong teams [as it was] articulating what needed to be done.”

He selected a position at Google because he was driven by the service that the search engine had become. “At its heart, Google's a technology company, not just an Internet company,” Dr. Clancy explained. “Given an opportunity, Google would focus on how innovation would solve the problem. For example, Book Search solved a problem. It's an ambitious, long-term endeavor, sort of Google's ‘moon’ shot, and not the type of thing Internet companies engage in. This is really a five- to ten-year vision; to make the world's printed content searchable online.”

When Google began its print initiative, scanning technology proved prohibitively expensive, so it set its researchers to work on developing a new method for scanning. Dr. Clancy arrived after the new technology had proven itself successful. His job was to develop ways to “scale” the technology to handle larger amounts of print in order to accomplish Google's long-term goal.

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