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OpenAI CEO calls for laws to mitigate ‘risks of increasingly powerful’ AI

Taken from | Author: Johana Bhuiyan | Date: 16 May 2023

The CEO of OpenAI, the company responsible for creating artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT and image generator Dall-E 2, said “regulation of AI is essential” as he testified in his first appearance in front of the US Congress.

Speaking to the Senate judiciary committee on Tuesday, Sam Altman said he supported regulatory guardrails for the technology that would enable the benefits of artificial intelligence while minimizing the harms.

“We think that regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful models,” Altman said in his prepared remarks.

Altman suggested the US government might consider licensing and testing requirements for development and release of AI models. He proposed establishing a set of safety standards and a specific test models would have to pass before they can be deployed, as well as allowing independent auditors to examine the models before they are launched. He also argued existing frameworks like Section 230, which releases platforms from liability for the content its users post, would not be the right way to regulate the system.

“For a very new technology we need a new framework,” Altman said.

Both Altman and Gary Marcus, an emeritus professor of psychology and neural science at New York University who also testified at the hearing, called for a new regulatory agency for the technology. AI is complicated and moving fast, Marcus argued, making “an agency whose full-time job” is to regulate it crucial.

Throughout the hearing, senators drew parallels between social media and generative AI, and the lessons lawmakers had learned from the government’s failure to act on regulating social platforms.

Yet the hearing was far less contentious than those at which the likes of the Meta CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, testified. Many lawmakers gave Altman credit for his calls for regulation and acknowledgment of the pitfalls of generative AI. Even Marcus, brought on to provide skepticism about the technology, called Altman’s testimony sincere.

The hearing came as renowned and respected AI experts and ethicists, including former Google researchers Dr Timnit Gebru, who co-led the company’s ethical AI team, and Meredith Whitaker, have been sounding the alarm about the rapid adoption of generative AI, arguing the technology is over-hyped. “The idea that this is going to magically become a source of social good … is a fantasy used to market these programs,” Whitaker, now the president of secure messaging app Signal, recently said in an interview with Meet the Press Reports.

Generative AI is a probability machine “designed to spit out things that seem plausible” based on “massive amounts of effectively surveillance data that has been scraped from the web”, she argued.

Senators Josh Hawley and Richard Blumenthal said this hearing is just the first step in understanding the technology.

Blumenthal said he recognized what he described as the “promises” of the technology including “curing cancer, developing new understandings of physics and biology, or modeling climate and weather”.

Potential risks Blumenthal said he was worried about include deepfakes, weaponized disinformation, housing discrimination, harassment of women and impersonation frauds. “For me, perhaps the biggest nightmare is the looming new industrial revolution, the displacement of millions of workers,” he said.

Altman said that while OpenAI was building tools that will one day address some of humanity’s biggest challenges like climate changes and curing cancer”, the current systems were not capable of doing these things yet.

But he believes the benefits of the tools deployed so far “vastly outweigh the risks” and said the company conducts extensive testing and implements safety and monitoring systems before releasing any new system.

“OpenAI was founded on the belief that artificial intelligence has the ability to improve nearly every aspect of our lives but also that it creates serious risks that we have to work together to manage,” Altman said.

Altman said the technology will significantly affect the job market but he believes “there will be far greater jobs on the other side of this”.

“The jobs will get better,” he said. “I think it’s important to think of GPT as a tool not a creature … GPT 4 and tools like it are good at doing tasks, not jobs. GPT 4 will, I think, entirely automate away some jobs and it will create new ones that we believe will be much better.”

Altman also said he was very concerned about the impact that large language model services will have on elections and misinformation, particularly ahead of the primaries.

“There’s a lot that we can and do do,” Altman said in response to a question from Senator Amy Klobuchar about a tweet ChatGPT crafted that listed fake polling locations. “There are things that the model won’t do and there is monitoring. At scale … we can detect someone generating a lot of those [misinformation] tweets.”

Altman didn’t have an answer yet for how content creators whose work is being used in AI-generated songs, articles or other works can be compensated, saying the company is engaged with artists and other entities on what that economic model could look like. When asked by Klobuchar about how he plans to remedy threats to local news publications whose content is being scraped and used to train these models, Altman said he hopes the tool would help journalists but that “if there are things that we can do to help local news, we’d certainly like to”.

Touched upon but largely missing from the conversation was the potential danger of a small group of power players dominating the industry, a dynamic Whitaker has warned risks entrenching existing power dynamics.

“There are only a handful of companies in the world that have the combination of data and infrastructural power to create what we’re calling AI from nose-to-tail,” she said in the Meet the Press interview. “We’re now in a position that this overhyped technology is being created, distributed and ultimately shaped to serve the economic interests of these same handful of actors.”

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