Editor’s newsletter: Why the global rise of AI needs much more scrutiny

The news has been full of warnings about AI's existential risk to humanity this week, but it's already affecting our lives and needs more scrutiny

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman addresses a speech during a meeting, at the Station F in Paris on May 26, 2023 (Image: Getty)OpenAI CEO Sam Altman addresses a speech during a meeting, at the Station F in Paris on May 26, 2023 (Image: Getty)
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman addresses a speech during a meeting, at the Station F in Paris on May 26, 2023 (Image: Getty)

A few months ago I wrote about how AI is going to change our lives, whether we like it or not. But recently the warnings have become a lot more serious.

The anxiety isn’t around relatively harmless innovations like asking ChatGPT to write a Best Man’s Speech, or using Spotify’s new AI DJ to curate your working-from-home soundtrack. What scientists who have helped develop artificial intelligence are most concerned about is how these systems are developing so quickly without the proper regulation.

The most high profile voice so far has been Dr Geoffrey Hinton, the man widely regarded as the godfather of AI, whose resignation from Google earlier this month caused a global news event. He fears that connected AI systems, which can learn separately but share information instantly, are evolving at a rate that will cause major problems for society - especially if they fall into the hands of the wrong people - namely Vladimir Putin.

This past week, hundreds of tech entrepreneurs, researchers and policymakers signed a joint statement that set this position out in just 22 words:

“Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”

It’s positive to see governments too finally get to grips with AI, even if it’s as simple as accepting that there needs to be some form of global regulatory body. Rishi Sunak said the government was “looking very carefully” at the threats and what “guardrails” need to be put in place. It’s a start.

Perhaps my previous argument should have been made in the present tense: AI is already changing our lives, and we often don’t realise it. From online recommendations to facial recognition in surveillance cameras, AI is here, and has been here for years. Recently, BT announced it could cut 55,000 jobs - with some customer service staff set to be replaced by AI. And experts told NationalWorld’s politics editor Tom Hourigan that the UK was on the ‘precipice’ of major AI interference in our politics.

The advent of ‘generative AI’ in high profile tools like ChatGPT and Bard has certainly brought the subject into the mainstream, but there’s an argument that these dramatic, existential warnings are designed to distract us from what’s going on now - that a handful of massive corporations are already profiting from the technology without much oversight, and with huge ramifications for democracy.

AI is a complex subject, and one that needs much more interrogation into the tech firms fuelling its rise.

Munro magic...

As an antidote to this slightly apocalyptic theme, this week I also had the chance to wax lyrical about the joys of climbing mountains. I don’t pretend to be a seasoned mountaineer, not by a long shot, but I enjoyed writing about my experiences of ‘Munro-bagging’ in Scotland for our travel section. The feature also includes a short film from our resident video editor Craig Sinclair, who took his drone camera up to Ben Lawers with a few of the NationalWorld team last weekend.

📺 Succession’s over, but you can listen to our TV team chew over the finale on this week’s Screen Babble podcast. Looking for your next show? Check out the Weekend Watch mini-episode.

📧 You can email me with any feedback on this or any of our stories at [email protected].

Have an enjoyable weekend - it’s looking like a good one ☀

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