The emergence of generative artificial intelligence has seemingly caused panic among industry evangelists like Elon Musk, who recently called for a six-month pause in training new AI systems. But are our contemporary Victor Frankensteins sincere about tapping the brakes, or are they merely jockeying for position?
LONDON – In Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, scientist Victor Frankenstein famously uses dead body parts to create a hyperintelligent “superhuman” monster that – driven mad by human cruelty and isolation – ultimately turns on its creator. Since its publication in 1818, Shelley’s story of scientific research gone wrong has come to be seen as a metaphor for the danger (and folly) of trying to endow machines with human-like intelligence.
Shelley’s tale has taken on new resonance with the rapid emergence of generative artificial intelligence. On March 22, the Future of Life Institute issued an open letter signed by hundreds of tech leaders, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, calling for a six-month pause (or a government-imposed moratorium) in developing AI systems more powerful than OpenAI’s newly released ChatGPT-4. “AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity,” says the letter, which currently has more than 25,000 signatories. The authors go on to warn of the “out-of-control” race “to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict, or reliably control.”
Musk, currently the world’s second-richest person, is in many respects the Victor Frankenstein of our time. The famously boastful South Africa-born billionaire has already tried to automate the entire process of driving (albeit with mixedresults), claimed to invent a new mode of transportation with the Boring Company’s (still hypothetical) hyperloop project, and declared his intention to “preserve the light of consciousness” by using his rocket company SpaceX to establish a colony on Mars. Musk also happens to be a co-founder of OpenAI (he resigned from the company’s board in 2018 following a failed takeover attempt).
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