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10.3: What about Pauses and Open Letters?

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    If you’ve been keeping track of the media coverage around Artificial Intelligence you will have no doubt seen the open letter calling for a pause to AI development, and the subsequent outcry from various fathers, godfathers, grandfathers, brothers, and uncles of AI like Geoffrey Hinton and Yoshua Bengio. Even OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman practically begged the US senate to regulate his industry, alongside “AI critic” (and founder.of several very successful AI companies) Gary Marcus. Marcus and Altman have even offered to help lead those efforts.

    It would be easy to look at these examples of alarm from respected industry experts and wonder if we haven’t just ushered in the end of the world. On the other hand, if you dig around a little, it starts to seem like the apocalyptic hype serves some of these individuals and companies pretty well.

    First of all, the “pause” was broadly condemned as both an unsustainable and unrealistic option, and as a self-interested attempt by some to slow down the pace of development to allow their own companies to catch up. It was shot down as a publicity stunt, and largely ignored in the industry. Geoffrey Hinton’s claims have also been called into question. His former Google colleagues, most notably co-author of the stochastic parrots article mentioned earlier, Timnit Gebru, have criticised his failure to support them when they were fired (or left willingly, depending on who you ask) Google’s ethics team.

    Both the pause and the prophecies of doom from experts such as Hinton have been labelled a distraction from the real issues of AI which could be dealt with right now. Foremost amongst these issues is the distribution of power and the marginalisation of at-risk groups.

    For our students, there are many reasons why we should be concerned about AI, and most of those reasons are much more down-to-earth than “because it will destroy the world”. As power and wealth continues to be centralised in the hands of leading companies, we need to question the impact AI will have on the workforce and the future lives of our students. Although AI could bring productivity gains, it remains to be seen whether those benefits will be passed down to workers or used to make the rich richer.

    Much like social media and “influencer” work – often attractive to young people who use the platforms – Artificial Intelligence is also built on a lot of “free labour”. Just as Facebook and Twitter profit from users contributing hours of unpaid time and their creative and intellectual property, AI is built on data that was never paid for, and trained for free by every person using the platforms.

    Rather than subscribing to the end of the world narrative, we need to talk to students about their rights and responsibilities as they grow and get ready to leave school; otherwise, they’re at risk of becoming just more unpaid workers in the powerful AI machine.

    10.3: What about Pauses and Open Letters? is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.