The rise of artificial general intelligence – now seen as inevitable in Silicon Valley – will bring changes “orders of magnitude” greater than anything the world has yet seen, observers say. But are we ready?
AGI—defined as artificial intelligence with human cognitive abilities, as opposed to narrower artificial intelligence such as the headline-grabbing ChatGPT—could free people from menial tasks and usher in a new era of creativity.
But such a historic paradigm shift can also threaten jobs and raise insurmountable social problems, experts warn.
Past technological advances from electricity to the Internet ignited powerful social change, says Siqi Chen, CEO of San Francisco startup Runway.
“But what we are looking at now is intelligence itself… This is the first time we are able to create intelligence ourselves and increase its amount in the universe,” he told AFP.
Changes as a result will be “orders of magnitude greater than any other technological change we’ve ever had in history.”
And such an exciting, terrifying shift is a “double-edged sword,” Chen said, imagining using AGI to tackle climate change, for example, but also cautioning that it’s a tool that we want to be as “controllable as possible .”
It was the release of ChatGPT at the end of last year that brought the long dreamed idea of AGI a giant leap closer to reality.
OpenAI, the company behind the generative software that dispenses essays, poems and computer code on command, this week released an even more powerful version of the technology that powers it — GPT-4.
It says the technology will be able to process not only text but also images and produce more complex content such as legal complaints or video games.
As such, it “exhibits human-level performance” on some benchmarks, the company said.
– Farewell to ‘drag’ –
The success of OpenAI, backed by Microsoft, has ignited an arms race of sorts in Silicon Valley as tech giants try to push their generative AI tools to the next level — even as they remain wary of chatbots going off the rails.
Already, AI-infused digital assistants from Microsoft and Google can summarize meetings, draft emails, create websites, create ad campaigns and more – giving us a glimpse of what AGI will be capable of in the future.
“We spend too much time on the wear and tear,” said Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s vice president.
With artificial intelligence, Spataro wants to “rediscover the soul of work,” he said during a Microsoft presentation Thursday.
Artificial intelligence can also reduce costs, some suggest.
British landscape architect Joe Perkins tweeted that he was using GPT-4 for a coding project that a “very good” developer had told him would cost 5,000 pounds ($6,000) and take two weeks.
“GPT-4 delivered the same in 3 hours, for $0.11,” he tweeted. “Really mind blowing.”
But it raises the question of the threat to human jobs, with entrepreneur Chen acknowledging that technology could one day build a startup like his — or an even better version.
“How can I make a living and not be homeless?” he asked, adding that he expected solutions to come.
– Existential questions –
Ubiquitous AI also calls into question creative authenticity as songs, images, art and more are churned out by software instead of humans.
Will humans eschew education and instead rely on software to think for them?
And who should be trusted to make the AI unbiased, accurate and adaptable to different countries and cultures?
AGI is “probably coming at us faster than we can process,” says Sharon Zhou, co-founder of a generative AI company.
The technology raises an existential question for humanity, she told AFP.
“If there is to be something stronger than us and more intelligent than us, what does that mean to us?” Zhou asked.
“And are we taking advantage of it? Or is it taking advantage of us?”
OpenAI says it plans to build AGI gradually with the goal of benefiting all of humanity, but it has admitted the software has security flaws.
Security is a “process,” OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever said in an interview with MIT Technology Review, adding that it would be “very desirable” for companies to “come up with some kind of process that allows for slower releases of models with these completely unprecedented capabilities.”
But for now, Zhou says, slowing down just isn’t part of the ethos.
“The power is concentrated around those who can build this. And they make the decisions around this, and they tend to move quickly,” she says.
The international order itself may be at stake, she suggests.
“The pressure between the US and China has been enormous,” Zhou says, adding that the race over artificial intelligence invokes the Cold War era.
“Surely there is the risk with AGI that if one country figures it out faster, they will dominate?” she asks.
“And so I think the fear is, don’t stop because we can’t lose.”