Artificial intelligence

Elon Musk and others urge AI pause, citing ‘risks to society’

Elon Musk and others urge AI pause, citing ‘risks to society’
Tesla CEO Elon Musk leaves the Phillip Burton Federal Building and US Courthouse for the fourth day of the trial of Tesla shareholders lawsuit against Musk in San Francisco, California, USA, 24 January 2023. Tesla shareholders against CEO Elon Musk are taking him to court after he tweeted in 2018 that he could take Tesla private at 240 US dollars a share, a statement that caused volatility in the electric car company's stock price. EPA-EFE/GEORGE NIKITIN

March 29 (Reuters) - Elon Musk and a group of artificial intelligence experts and industry executives are calling for a six-month pause in developing systems more powerful than OpenAI's newly launched GPT-4, in an open letter citing potential risks to society and humanity.

Earlier this month, Microsoft-backed OpenAI unveiled the fourth iteration of its GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) AI program, which has wowed users with its vast range of applications, from engaging users in human-like conversation to composing songs and summarising lengthy documents.

The letter, issued by the non-profit Future of Life Institute and signed by more than 1,000 people including Musk, called for a pause on advanced AI development until shared safety protocols for such designs were developed, implemented and audited by independent experts.

“Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable,” the letter said.

OpenAI didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The letter detailed potential risks to society and civilization by human-competitive AI systems in the form of economic and political disruptions, and called on developers to work with policymakers on governance and regulatory authorities.

Co-signatories included Stability AI CEO Emad Mostaque, researchers at Alphabet-owned GOOGL.O DeepMind, and AI heavyweights Yoshua Bengio, often referred to as one of the “godfathers of AI”, and Stuart Russell, a pioneer of research in the field.

According to the European Union’s transparency register, the Future of Life Institute is primarily funded by the Musk Foundation, as well as London-based effective altruism group Founders Pledge, and Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The concerns come as EU police force Europol on Monday joined a chorus of ethical and legal concerns over advanced AI like ChatGPT, warning about the potential misuse of the system in phishing attempts, disinformation and cybercrime.

Meanwhile, the UK government unveiled proposals for an “adaptable” regulatory framework around AI.

The government’s approach, outlined in a policy paper published on Wednesday, would split responsibility for governing artificial intelligence (AI) between its regulators for human rights, health and safety, and competition, rather than create a new body dedicated to the technology.



Musk, whose carmaker Tesla TSLA.O is using AI for an autopilot system, has been vocal about his concerns about AI.

Since its release last year, OpenAI’s ChatGPT has prompted rivals to accelerate developing similar large language models, and companies to integrate generative AI models into their products.

Last week, OpenAI announced it had partnered with around a dozen firms to build their services into its chatbot, allowing ChatGPT users to order groceries via Instacart, or book flights through Expedia.

Sam Altman, chief executive at OpenAI hasn’t signed the letter, a spokesperson at Future of Life told Reuters.

“The letter isn’t perfect, but the spirit is right: we need to slow down until we better understand the ramifications,” said Gary Marcus, a professor at New York University who signed the letter. “The big players are becoming increasingly secretive about what they are doing, which makes it hard for society to defend against whatever harms may materialize.”

Critics accused the letter’s signatories of promoting “AI hype”, arguing that claims around the technology’s current potential had been greatly exaggerated.

“These kinds of statements are meant to raise hype. It’s meant to get people worried,” Johanna Björklund, an AI researcher and associate professor at Umeå University. “I don’t think there’s a need to pull the handbrake.”

Rather than pause research, she said, AI researchers should be subjected to greater transparency requirements. “If you do AI research, you should be very transparent about how you do it.”

By Jyoti Narayan, Krystal Hu, Martin Coulter and Supantha Mukherjee

(Reporting by Jyoti Narayan in Bengaluru, Krystal Hu in New York, Martin Coulter in London, and Supantha Mukhurjee in Stockholm. Editing by Gerry Doyle and Elaine Hardcastle)


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Malcolm Jaros says:

    The principal actors call for a “pause”? What hypocrisy! They are simply jockeying for a stronger position in their race to zombie-ism.

  • Christopher Bedford says:

    I quite agree that the whole so-called AI thing is over-hyped and its social impact under-estimated but at this stage E. Musk endorsing any movement is enough to turn a person against it and make you question your own judgement. Given “confirmation bias” I’m inclined to believe he’s wrong more than he’s right so maybe we should be doing the exact opposite of what he suggests?

  • Frank Gainsford says:

    Interesting debate here, but life is moving faster than expected… I do not think that this will happen coz the financial returns are way too big ..

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