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AI ‘godfather’ Geoffrey Hinton warns of its risks and quits Google

For half a century, AI ‘godfather’ Geoffrey Hinton nurtured the technology at the heart of chatbots like ChatGPT. Now, having left Google, he warns it could cause serious harm in the future. 

Regarded by many as a ‘godfather’ of AI technology, Geoffrey Hinton’s pioneering research paved the way for sophisticated generative systems like ChatGPT. 

The British-Canadian earned his chops over half a century in computer science and cognitive phycology. Now, at 75, he has left his post at Google to ‘blow the whistle’ on the supposed dangers being posed by AI’s ceaseless growth. 

While, currently, many of us are still revelling in the technology’s novel uses, he warns that years from now these systems will inevitably learn ‘ways of manipulating people’ and asserts that they’re becoming smarter than humans already. 

If you’re picturing a future similar to Blumhouse’s naff horror movie M3GAN, you’re probably wide of the mark, but the level of existential concern around machine learning’s lack of regulation is fast rising.

Hinton told the New York Times that until last year he believed Google had been a ‘proper steward’ of AI, but that all cautious sensibility was scrapped once Microsoft merged ChatGPT with Bing – inadvertently threatening its Google Search business. 

Behind closed doors some known dangers prior to this decision were ‘quite scary,’ he told the BBC, warning chatbots could become more intelligent than humans and could be exploited by ‘bad actors’.  

‘It’s able to produce lots of text automatically so you can get lots of very effective spambots. It will allow authoritarian leaders to manipulate their electorates, things like that.’ 

Arguably more concerning, however, is the ‘risk of what happens when these things get more intelligent than us,’ which he believes is inevitable. 

‘I’ve come to the conclusion that the kind of intelligence we’re developing is very different from the intelligence we have,’ he said. ‘So, it’s as if you had 10,000 people and whenever one person learned something, everybody automatically knew it. And that’s how these chatbots can know so much more than any one person.’ 

Within the upper echelons of AI research, it isn’t just Hinton positing that the technology could eventually pose harm to humanity. Elon Musk reportedly fell out with Google co-chief Larry Page just last month as he was ‘not taking AI safety seriously enough.’ 

The Twitter boss told Fox News that Page wanted to create ‘digital superintelligence’ akin to that of a ‘digital God.’ 

Elsewhere, Valeria Pisano of the Quebec AI Institute shared Hinton’s sentiment that the off-the-cuff approach to development in AI systems would not be tolerated anywhere else. 

‘The technology is put out there, and as the system interacts with humankind, its developers wait to see what happens and make adjustments based on that. We would never, as a collective, accept this kind of mindset in any other industrial field,’ she said. 

Whether you believe the concern around AI’s future is alarmist or not, there’s credence to the argument that not only are we handing AI the wheel, but we’re also potentially allowing it to choose its own path.