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Elon Musk and others urge AI pause, citing ‘risks to society’

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A letter detailed potential risks to society and civilization by human-competitive AI systems in the form of economic and political disruptions

Elon Musk and a group of artificial intelligence experts and industry executives are calling for a six-month pause in developing systems more powerful than OpenAI’s newly launched GPT-4, in an open letter citing potential risks to society and humanity.

Earlier this month, Microsoft-backed OpenAI unveiled the fourth iteration of its GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) AI program, which has wowed users with its vast range of applications, from engaging users in human-like conversation to composing songs and summarising lengthy documents.

The letter, issued by the non-profit Future of Life Institute and signed by more than 1,000 people including Musk, called for a pause on advanced AI development until shared safety protocols for such designs were developed, implemented and audited by independent experts.

“Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable,” the letter said.

OpenAI didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The letter detailed potential risks to society and civilization by human-competitive AI systems in the form of economic and political disruptions, and called on developers to work with policymakers on governance and regulatory authorities.

Co-signatories included Stability AI CEO Emad Mostaque, researchers at Alphabet-owned GOOGL.O DeepMind, and AI heavyweights Yoshua Bengio, often referred to as one of the “godfathers of AI”, and Stuart Russell, a pioneer of research in the field.

According to the European Union’s transparency register, the Future of Life Institute is primarily funded by the Musk Foundation, as well as London-based effective altruism group Founders Pledge, and Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The concerns come as EU police force Europol on Monday joined a chorus of ethical and legal concerns over advanced AI like ChatGPT, warning about the potential misuse of the system in phishing attempts, disinformation and cybercrime.

Meanwhile, the UK government unveiled proposals for an “adaptable” regulatory framework around AI.

The government’s approach, outlined in a policy paper published on Wednesday, would split responsibility for governing artificial intelligence (AI) between its regulators for human rights, health and safety, and competition, rather than create a new body dedicated to the technology.

TRANSPARENCY

Musk, whose carmaker Tesla TSLA.O is using AI for an autopilot system, has been vocal about his concerns about AI.

Since its release last year, OpenAI’s ChatGPT has prompted rivals to accelerate developing similar large language models, and companies to integrate generative AI models into their products.

Last week, OpenAI announced it had partnered with around a dozen firms to build their services into its chatbot, allowing ChatGPT users to order groceries via Instacart, or book flights through Expedia.

Sam Altman, chief executive at OpenAI hasn’t signed the letter, a spokesperson at Future of Life told Reuters.

“The letter isn’t perfect, but the spirit is right: we need to slow down until we better understand the ramifications,” said Gary Marcus, a professor at New York University who signed the letter. “The big players are becoming increasingly secretive about what they are doing, which makes it hard for society to defend against whatever harms may materialize.”

Critics accused the letter’s signatories of promoting “AI hype”, arguing that claims around the technology’s current potential had been greatly exaggerated.

“These kinds of statements are meant to raise hype. It’s meant to get people worried,” Johanna Björklund, an AI researcher and associate professor at Umeå University. “I don’t think there’s a need to pull the handbrake.”

Rather than pause research, she said, AI researchers should be subjected to greater transparency requirements. “If you do AI research, you should be very transparent about how you do it.”

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