AI Pioneer Geoffrey Hinton believes that artificial intelligence (AI) may pose a more pressing threat to humanity than climate change. In a recent interview with Reuters, Hinton, widely known as one of the “godfathers of AI,” expressed concern over the possible risks of AI and how machines could take control of the planet if they were to become more intelligent than humans.
Hinton, who recently left Alphabet after a decade at the firm, is among a growing number of tech leaders publicly voicing their apprehensions about the potential threat posed by AI. His work is considered essential to the development of contemporary AI systems. He co-authored the seminal paper “Learning representations by back-propagating errors” in 1986, a milestone in the development of the neural networks undergirding AI technology. In 2018, he was awarded the Turing Award for his research breakthroughs.
According to Hinton, “I wouldn’t like to devalue climate change. I wouldn’t like to say, ‘You shouldn’t worry about climate change.’ That’s a huge risk too. But I think this might end up being more urgent.” He added that “with climate change, it’s very easy to recommend what you should do: you just stop burning carbon. If you do that, eventually things will be okay. For this, it’s not at all clear what you should do.”
In November 2022, Microsoft-backed OpenAI launched an AI-powered chatbot called ChatGPT, which quickly became the fastest-growing app in history, reaching 100 million monthly users in two months. However, in April 2023, Twitter CEO Elon Musk joined thousands of people in signing an open letter calling for a six-month pause in the development of systems more powerful than OpenAI’s recently-launched GPT-4.
While Hinton shares the signatories’ concern that AI may prove to be an existential threat to mankind, he disagreed with pausing research. “It’s utterly unrealistic,” he said. “I’m in the camp that thinks this is an existential risk, and it’s close enough that we ought to be working very hard right now, and putting a lot of resources into figuring out what we can do about it.”
In the European Union, a committee of lawmakers responded to the Musk-backed letter, calling on U.S. President Joe Biden to convene a global summit on the future direction of the technology with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Last week, the committee agreed on a landmark set of proposals targeting generative AI, which would force companies like OpenAI to disclose any copyright material used to train their models.
Biden has also held talks with a number of AI company leaders, including Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman at the White House, promising a “frank and constructive discussion” on the need for companies to be more transparent about their systems.
“The tech leaders have the best understanding of it, and the politicians have to be involved,” said Hinton. “It affects us all, so we all have to think about it.”
In conclusion, Hinton’s warnings regarding the dangers of AI and its potential to become an existential threat to mankind should be taken seriously. It is important that companies and governments work together to ensure that AI is developed in a responsible manner that prioritizes the well-being of humanity.