Dr Geoffrey Hinton, known as ‘The Godfather of AI’, has quit Google to speak up about the impending dangers of artificial intelligence.
He says that now he partly regrets his life’s work.
“I console myself with the normal excuse: If I hadn’t done it, somebody else would have,” said Dr Hinton during a recent interview in his Toronto home.
Dr Hinton’s career journey
75-year-old Geoffrey Hinton was an artificial intelligence pioneer throughout his career, greatly contributing to the technology’s development and success.
In 1972, as a University of Edinburgh graduate, Dr Hinton was one of the first to conceptualise the neural network – a mathematical system that is modelled on the function of the human brain. Neural networks recognize patterns in data, learn from that data, and use that learning to make decisions and predictions. While researchers at the time were sceptical of this idea, the neural network became a foundational building block of artificial intelligence as we know it today.
Dr. Hinton proceeded to become a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. However, during the 1980s, the vast majority of artificial intelligence research in the US was funded by the Pentagon. Dr Hinton was opposed to using AI for warfare and hence moved to Canada to continue his life’s work.
In 2012, Dr. Hinton and two of his graduate students, Ilya Sutskever and Alex Krizhevsky, developed a neural network that became a breakthrough for AI. The technology was able to analyse large volumes of images and could teach itself to identify common objects like cars, dogs, and flowers. The level of accuracy achieved by the neural network had been previously deemed impossible.
The company founded by Dr Hinton and his students was acquired by Google for $44 million and resulted in the subsequent development of more sophisticated AI technologies than ever before, such as ChatGPT. They went on to receive the Turing Award, which is often termed “the Nobel Prize of Computing”. Dr Hinton’s graduate student Ilya Sutskever is now the Chief Scientist of OpenAI, the company that developed ChatGPT.
In 2012, Dr Hinton did not have the same concerns that he has today. While AI could learn from patterns and generate powerful results, humans possessed far more intelligence at the time.
This gap in ‘intelligence’ is now closing.
Dr Hinton quits Google
On the 1st of May, Hinton resigned from Google after working there for almost a decade. He quit in order to speak freely about his concerns in the field and warn people about the dangerous speed at which generative AI is progressing.
This marks a crucial moment in the technology industry. Dr Hinton, who is a trailblazing expert in AI and who contributed substantially to its development over the years, has now become one of its biggest skeptics.
His departure from Google comes at a time when the usage of AI in our daily lives is at an all-time high. ChatGPT has sparked countless conversations around the ethics of AI, and with Bard and AI-powered Microsoft Bing racing to hit the market, skeptics question whether the aggressive rollout of these features will result in a myriad of unintended consequences.
After ChatGPT was released, over 1,000 tech leaders signed a letter that advocated for a 6-month moratorium on the ethical development of new AI systems. A few days later, leaders from the Association for the Advancement of AI released their own letter about the risks of AI. Hinton signed neither of these letters at the time because he did not want to criticise Google while he was working there.
“I want to talk about AI safety issues without having to worry about how it interacts with Google’s business. As long as I’m paid by Google, I can’t do that”, Dr Hinton told MIT Technology Review.
Concerns about AI
As AI systems rapidly evolve, Dr. Hinton believes that they are becoming increasingly dangerous.
“Look at how it was five years ago and how it is now. Take the difference and propagate it forwards. That’s scary”, Hinton remarked.
“The idea that this stuff could actually get smarter than people — a few people believed that,” he said. “But most people thought it was way off. And I thought it was way off. I thought it was 30 to 50 years or even longer away. Obviously, I no longer think that.”
We already know that generative AI has issues regarding academic integrity, facilitating misinformation, and perpetuating historical biases. However, in the future generative AI could become a risk to jobs, completely transforming people’s livelihoods. It could replace manufacturing roles, paralegals, and customer service workers, among others. “It takes away the drudge work,” Hinton said. “It might take away more than that.”
There are also more dire concerns that AI could become a risk to humanity, with uncertainty surrounding how much control humans will have over AI as it becomes more sophisticated, and dangers associated with the development of autonomous weaponry.
“It is hard to see how you can prevent the bad actors from using it for bad things,” he said.
Dr Hinton has now made it his mission to promote the responsible use of AI. His vision is to encourage leading scientists worldwide to collaborate and explore ways to effectively manage the technology, ensuring that it doesn’t gain an upper hand over humanity. Hinton is advocating for regulations to keep up with AI innovation and is urging Big Tech companies to thoroughly comprehend the potential risks of their technology before releasing it to the public.
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