AI ‘godfather’ feels ‘lost’ for life’s work – BBC News

AI 'godfather' feels 'lost' for life's work - BBC News

  • By Zoe Kleinmann
  • Technology editor

One of the so-called “godfathers” of Artificial Intelligence (AI) said he would prioritize safety over utility if he realized the pace at which it would evolve.

Professor Yoshua Bengio told the BBC he felt ‘lost’ about his life’s work.

Professor Bengio, who has joined calls for AI regulation, said he did not believe the military should be granted artificial intelligence powers.

He is the second of the three so-called “godfathers” of AI, known for their pioneering work in the field, to express concern about the direction and speed at which it is developing.

Artificial intelligence describes the ability of computers to perform such complex tasks that previously required human intelligence to complete.

A recent example has been the development of AI-powered chatbots, such as ChatGBT, that appear to give human answers to questions.

But some fear that advanced computational ability could be used for malicious purposes, such as developing deadly new chemical weapons.

Professor Bengio told the BBC he was concerned about “bad actors” taking over AI, especially as it has become more sophisticated and powerful.

“It could be military, it could be terrorist, it could be someone very angry, psychotic. And so if it’s easy to program these AI systems to ask them to do something very bad, that could be very dangerous.

“If they’re smarter than us, then it’s hard for us to stop these systems or prevent harm,” he added.

Professor Bengio admitted those worries were taking their toll on him, as his life’s work, which had given him direction and a sense of identity, was no longer clear to him.

“It’s a challenge, emotionally speaking, for the people who are inside [the AI sector],” he said.

“You could say I feel lost. But you have to move forward and you have to engage, discuss, encourage others to think with you.”

The Canadian signed two recent statements urging caution on the future risks of AI. Some academics and industry experts have warned that the pace of development could result in “bad actors” using malicious AI to either actively cause harm or choose to inflict harm themselves.

Fellow ‘godfather’ Dr Geoffrey Hinton also signed off on the same warnings as Prof Bengio and recently retired from Google saying he regretted his job.

The third “godfather”, Professor Yann LeCun, who together with Professor Bengio and Dr. Hinton won a prestigious Turing award for their pioneering work, said the doomsday warnings are exaggerated.

Twitter and Tesla owner Elon Musk also expressed his concerns.

“I don’t think AI will try to destroy humanity, but it may put us under tight control,” he said recently at an event hosted by the Wall Street Journal.

“There is a small probability that it will annihilate humanity. Close to zero but not impossible.”

Professor Bengio told the BBC that all companies building powerful AI products must be registered.

“Governments need to keep track of what they’re doing, they need to be able to control them, and that’s just the very least thing we do for any other industry like building airplanes or cars or pharmaceuticals,” he said.

“We also need people who are close to these systems to have some sort of certification…we need ethics training here. By the way, computer scientists don’t usually get that.”

But not everyone in the field believes AI will be the undoing of humans — others argue there are more imminent problems that need to be addressed.

Dr Sasha Luccioni, a researcher at artificial intelligence firm Huggingface, said the company should focus on issues like AI bias, predictive policing and chatbots spreading disinformation, which she says are “very concrete damage”.

“We should focus on that rather than the hypothetical risk of AI destroying humanity,” he added.

There are already many examples of AI benefiting society. Last week an AI tool discovered a new antibiotic and a paralyzed man was able to walk again just thinking about it, thanks to a microchip developed using AI.

But this is juxtaposed with fears about the far-reaching impact of AI on countries’ economies. Companies are already replacing human staff with AI tools, and it’s a factor in the current writers’ strike in Hollywood.

“It’s never too late to improve,” says Prof. Bengio on the current state of AI. “It’s exactly like climate change.

“We’ve put a lot of carbon into the atmosphere. And it would be better if we hadn’t, but let’s see what we can do now.”

What are your questions about artificial intelligence?

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