Geoffrey Hinton, Google's topmost artificial intelligence (AI) man, who announced his resignation from the company on 1 May, joined the panicked chorus shortly after the launch of ChatGPT in November.
Read more: Will ChatGPT knock Google off its throne?
At the time, people were stunned because of the rapid development of the generative artificial intelligence that underpins the application. In it, Hinton saw a sign of a dangerous future where humans would lose control when robots become smarter.
The resignation sharpens panic
What Hinton — nicknamed the godfather of artificial intelligence — foresaw is not new. He was preceded by many prominent figures in the world of technology and business, including:
- Elon Musk, owner of Twitter (or X Corp as it became to be known last month) and CEO of Tesla
- Steve Wozniak, one of the founders of Apple
- Stuart Russell, professor of computer science at the University of California at Berkeley
- Max Tegmark, professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Evan Sharp, one of the founders of Pinterest
These names — along with 1,300 other personalities — signed at the end of March an open letter calling for freezing the development of the most powerful AI bots for a period of time, citing risks these systems pose if they continue to develop without checks and balances.
Notably, one of the signatories at the time was Joshua Bengio, the second godfather of artificial intelligence, who — along with Hinton and Jan Lucan — won the 2018 Turing Award for their research on AI deep learning.
This was preceded by other open concerns about the development of artificial intelligence systems for various uses.
Prominent voices included Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, who is currently competing for a huge share of the sector, and Peter Thiel, one of the most prominent financiers OpenAI, who denied the existence of any evidence of how to develop safe artificial intelligence.
An empty "oval" invitation?
On the heels of Hinton’s resignation, the White House summoned the CEOs of the four leading American companies in artificial intelligence and technical innovation – Microsoft, Google, OpenAI and Anthropic – which have been roaring lately with the intensifying competition among them.
The White House is hosting its first AI meeting with the CEOs of Google, Microsoft, Anthropic and OpenAI, as the Biden administration unveils a plan to promote responsible AI development as Washington wrestles with the burgeoning technology.https://t.co/ojkDQnQ8uO— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) May 4, 2023
The summoning may be the first reaction to Hinton's resignation and his troubling statements.
The stated aim of the summoning is to discuss concerns about the risks associated with artificial intelligence, including violations of privacy, bias and the possible spread of fraud and misinformation, as well as the duty of these CEOs to ensure responsible conduct in the management of their companies and the innovation of their products.
President Joe Biden was clear in asserting the duty of these companies to verify that their products are safe before they are placed in people’s hands in order to guarantee their safety and safeguard their rights.
The question remains about the effectiveness of this debate in the absence of legal deterrence and regulation. This comes after the White House's positive attitude was met in August by the approval of seven of the largest artificial intelligence companies to make their models available for public scrutiny but only in a limited manner in line with "the principles of responsible disclosure."
Meanwhile, OpenAI refused to make public any of the basic technical information associated with GPT-4, which it recently launched, according to The Financial Times.
When it is too late
What is interesting about Hinton's recent statements is not the statements themselves, but first, the fact that they come from a leading and trusted researcher in artificial intelligence, and the fact that the statements reaffirmed all previous opinions and warnings beyond any doubt.