A Warning From The Godfather of Artificial Intelligence

artificial intelligence

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief… recently, a pioneering technologist heralded as the “Godfather of artificial intelligence” has taken a big step back to warn us about the potential perils such technology might ensure in the years ahead. In our analysis, we’ll be looking at 1) what prompted Dr. Geoffrey Hinton to quit his job and warn us about A.I., 2) how other leading technologists have expressed similar concerns in recent weeks, and 3) whether competition in the field of A.I. is driving the technology in potentially dangerous directions.

Quote of the Week

“Right now, what we are doing is not a science but a kind of alchemy.”

– Eric Horvitz, Chief Scientific Officer, Microsoft

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Podcasts: This week in podcasts from The Debrief, Stephanie Gerk and MJ Banias talk about the push for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the space industry, and Stephanie also muses over mysterious tracks left in Greenland on the latest installment of The Debrief Weekly ReportMeanwhile, this week on The Micah Hanks Program, after examining several cases involving purported health effects related to UAP, we take an epistemological look at unidentified aerial phenomena, asking, “what do we really know, and how do we know it?” You can subscribe to all of The Debrief’s podcasts, including audio editions of Rebelliously Curious, by heading over to our Podcasts Page. 

Video News: Recently on Rebelliously Curious, Chrissy Newton sat down with CFO, professor, Bitcoin enthusiast, and psychedelics advocate Paul Hynek, the son of former scientific advisor to the U.S. Air Force’s UFO investigations J. Allen Hynek. Also, if you missed the first installment of our all-new series “Ask Dr. Chance,” be sure to check out the first episode, and episode two airing later this week. You can also watch past episodes and other great content from The Debrief on our official YouTube Channel.

With that all behind us, it’s time to look at the latest round of A.I. experts who have stepped forward with concerns about where this technology is headed, and what that could mean going forward.

A Warning From the Godfather of A.I.

This week, one of the leading pioneers in the burgeoning artificial intelligence revolution made headlines around the world. However, it had not been for his contributions to the advancement of this controversial technology that he received so much attention.

It was the fact that he had announced he was stepping away from it.

Geoffrey Hinton had been the man behind the technology that served as the intellectual basis for what companies like Google, OpenAI, and many others are now capitalizing on, as part of a project undertaken with two graduate students at the University of Toronto in 2012.

Geoffrey Hinton
Geoffrey Hinton lecturing at an event in British Columbia (Credit: Eviatar Bach)

However, Hinton announced this week that he would be leaving Google, where he spent the last decade working to further the company’s efforts in the field of A.I., stating that the only way he could speak out about the potential dangers of the technology would be by stepping out as a free agent.

Hinton is now one of many leaders in the quickly advancing field who warn that the unforeseen consequences of artificial intelligence could one day come back to haunt us. But why are so many experts like him stepping forward now, and what seems to have been the breaking point for those who once supported A.I. research?

The Inevitability of Artificial Intelligence

“If I hadn’t done it, somebody else would have,” Hinton was quoted saying in The New York Times this week, although implying that such sentiments, in light of the potential dangers that A.I. could represent to humanity in the near future, seem to offer little consolation.

The widely read Times feature examined Hinton’s path from “A.I. groundbreaker to doomsayer,” showcasing how he and many others have called for a necessary step back—and perhaps a slower pace—than the current rate of development of artificial intelligence has recently seen.

In March, industry leaders that include Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and leaders in the A.I. field published an open letter calling for a temporary pause on A.I. development.

“AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity, as shown by extensive research and acknowledged by top AI labs,” the authors of the March 22, 2023 letter wrote.

artificial intelligence

“As stated in the widely-endorsed Asilomar AI PrinciplesAdvanced AI could represent a profound change in the history of life on Earth, and should be planned for and managed with commensurate care and resources,” the letter reads.

“Unfortunately, this level of planning and management is not happening,” the authors added, “even though recent months have seen AI labs locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict, or reliably control.”

Let’s take a look at that “out-of-control race” the authors  of this letter warned us about, and what that could mean.

Is Competition Driving Artificial Intelligence Down a Dangerous Path?

In recent months we have seen not just an apparent quickening in the development of A.I. systems, but also an obvious escalation of events driven by competition. Just weeks after the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google announced beta testing would begin for its own new A.I. assistive technology Bard. This was immediately followed by OpenAI announcing that it planned to allow ChatGPT to have limited access to the World Wide Web, a move that will improve its performance but which some also cite as a potential means by which, one day, any truly autonomous artificial intelligence may be able to wreak havoc by gaining access to the Internet… and everything connected to it.

Are such sudden competitive advancements being thoroughly considered? Apparently not, according to many experts in the A.I. field. For Hinton, concerns like these had also been among those which prompted him to quit his job at Google.

However, Hinton isn’t warning us about potential artificial intelligence takeover scenarios… at least not in the near term. Rather, among his primary concerns right now are the potentials involving the proliferation of A.I.-produced content online, which could mean that people may “not be able to know what is true anymore.”

Also addressing such concerns recently had been Microsoft Corp. Chief Economist Michael Schwarz, who shared his own confidence that “AI will be used by bad actors, and yes it will cause real damage,” while speaking at a World Economic Forum panel in Geneva . “It can do a lot damage in the hands of spammers with elections and so on,” Schwarz added.

Experts like Hinton are, of course, also concerned about whether more dangerous possibilities exist too, like artificial intelligence choosing to carry out its own motives irrespective of humans or presenting existential threats to humanity—concerns that were initially thought to be decades away if they ever even come to fruition—which now could be looming much closer.

In their letter in March, technologists like Elon Musk and others wrote that in the past, humanity has chosen to hit the pause button on other technologies that could have potentially impacted society in negative ways.

“We can do so here,” the letter concludes. “Let’s enjoy a long AI summer, not rush unprepared into a fall.”

That concludes this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief. You can read past editions of The Intelligence Brief at our website, or if you found this installment online, don’t forget to subscribe and get future email editions from us here. Also, if you have a tip or other information you’d like to send along directly to me, you can email me at micah [@] thedebrief [dot] org, or Tweet at me @MicahHanks.

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