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‘Godfather of AI’ leaves Google, warns of the dangers of technology


WASHINGTON (AP) — Raising the alarm about artificial intelligence has become a popular pastime in the ChatGPT era, adopted by high-profile figures as diverse as industrialist Elon Musk, left-wing intellectual Noam Chomsky, and 99-year-old retired statesman Henry Kissinger.

But it is the concerns of insiders in the AI ​​research community that are drawing particular attention. A pioneering researcher and the so-called “Godfather of AI” Geoffrey Hinton quit his position at Google so he could speak more freely about the dangers of the technology he helped create.

Throughout his decades-long career, Hinton’s pioneering work in deep learning and neural networks has laid the foundation for much of the AI ​​technology we see today.

There has been a wave of AI introductions in recent months. San Francisco-based startup OpenAI, the Microsoft-backed company behind ChatGPT, rolled out its latest artificial intelligence model, GPT-4, in March. Other tech giants have invested in competing tools, including Google’s “Bard.”

Some of the dangers of AI chatbots are “pretty scary,” Hinton told the BBC. “At the moment they are no more intelligent than us, as far as I know. But I think they could be soon.

In an interview with MIT Technology ReviewHinton also pointed to “bad actors” who can use AI in ways that could have detrimental effects on society, such as rigging elections or inciting violence.

Hinton, 75, says he retired from Google so he could speak openly about the potential risks as someone who no longer works for the tech giant.

“I want to talk about AI security issues without worrying about how it interacts with Google’s business,” he told MIT Technology Review. “As long as I get paid by Google, I can’t do that.”

Since announcing his departure, Hinton has maintained that Google “has acted very responsibly” with regard to AI. He told MIT Technology Review that there are also “a lot of good things about Google” that he’d like to talk about — but those comments would be “a lot more believable when I’m no longer at Google.”

Google confirmed that Hinton had stepped down from his position after overseeing the Google Research team in Toronto for 10 years.

Hinton declined further comment on Tuesday, but said he would speak more at a conference on Wednesday.

At the heart of the debate over the state of AI is whether the primary dangers lie in the future or in the present. On the one hand, there are hypothetical scenarios of existential risk caused by computers replacing human intelligence. On the other hand, there are concerns about automated technology that is already widely deployed by businesses and governments and could wreak havoc in the real world.

“For good or not, what the chatbot moment has done is turn AI into a national conversation and an international conversation that involves not just AI experts and developers,” said Alondra Nelson, who served in the White House Office of Security until February. Science led and Technology policy and the drive to create guidelines for the responsible use of AI tools.

“AI is no longer abstract, and we have this kind of opening, I think, to have a new conversation about how we want to see a democratic future and a non-exploitative future with technology,” Nelson said in an interview last month . .

A number of AI researchers have long expressed concerns about racial, gender, and other forms of bias in AI systems, including text-based large language models trained on massive amounts of human writing that could reinforce discrimination in society.

“We need to step back and really think about whose needs are at the center of the risk discussion,” said Sarah Myers West, general manager of the nonprofit AI Now Institute. “The damage caused by AI systems today is really not evenly distributed. It greatly exacerbates existing patterns of inequality.”

Hinton was one of three AI pioneers to win the Turing Award in 2019, an honor that has come to be known as the tech industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. The other two winners, Yoshua Bengio and Yann LeCun, have also expressed concerns about the future of AI.

Bengio, a professor at the University of Montreal, signed a petition in late March calling on tech companies to agree to a six-month pause in developing powerful AI systems, while LeCun, a top AI scientist at Facebook parent company Meta, has taken a more optimistic approach.


AP Technology Reporter Matt O’Brien reported from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.