ChatGPT-like tech bigger threat than climate change, warns Godfather of AI

Geoffrey Hinton quit Alphabet to speak out about the potential outcomes of AI freely.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Portrait of Geoffrey Hinton.
Portrait of Geoffrey Hinton.

Association of Computing Machinery 

Artificial intelligence pioneer Geoffrey Hinton gave a revealing interview to Reuters on Friday where he warned of the many dangers of the technology, highlighting that it may even be a bigger threat than climate change.

Widely known as one of the "godfathers of AI,” Hinton said he quit Alphabet in order to freely speak out about the potential outcomes of the technology.

Hinton did not downplay climate change but focused more on the more imminent dangers of AI.

"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," Hinton said. "But I think this might end up being more urgent."

"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,” Hinton continued.

A powerful open letter

In April, thousands of tech leaders and influential figures signed an open letter calling for a six-month pause in the development of systems more powerful than OpenAI's recently-launched GPT-4.

Hinton explained that he shared the signatories' concerns but disagreed with putting the research on pause as it was not a feasible solution.

“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 response to the letter, a committee of European Union lawmakers asked 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.

This resulted in the committee agreeing to a landmark set of proposals targeting generative AI last week, which may see AI companies disclose any copyrighted material used to train their models.

Hinton also praised Biden’s initiative to hold talks with several AI company leaders, where he promised 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 to Reuters. “It affects us all, so we all have to think about it.”

Hinton has done other interviews warning about AI.

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