‘The race is to get it right’: James Manyika joins Airbnb board to advise on AI transition

(pic: Samuel Sanchez/El Pais)

Airbnb has appointed Zimbabwean James Manyika to its board as it seeks to transform its platform with Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Manyika is currently Google’s Senior Vice President of Research, Technology and Society. He is a graduate of the University of Zimbabwe and the University of Oxford, from which he holds two master’s degrees and a PhD in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.

Brian Chesky, Airbnb Co-Founder and CEO, said Manyika’s appointment will support his company’s plans to incorporate AI in its operations.

“He’s dedicated his career to exploring technology’s impact on society, and is one of the world’s leading experts in AI. He started advising Airbnb in 2018 and has been an essential thought partner to me for years. It’s inevitable that AI will reshape society and have a profound impact on our business,” said Chesky.

Manyika responded to his appointment: “At such a critical point of inflection for technology and society, I’m inspired by the ways Airbnb has bridged people and cultures all around the world.”

Earlier this week, Manyikwa was named among the Top 100 people in AI by TIME magazine. He told the magazine that Zimbabwe’s past history of racial discrimination inspired some of his views on the risks of AI.

According to TIME, Manyika says Rhodesia had a “deep impact” on his approach to AI and ascertaining the scenarios that should be prevented. Facial recognition tools in the hands of an oppressive government, for example, could be disastrous, he said.

Manyika says that his main priority is to develop product safety and to be transparent about their limitations—even if that means that Google sometimes lags behind its AI competitors.

“Others will go earlier or later, some will go faster,” he told TIME. “To me, the only race here is to get it right.”