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Stop the World, Need to Think …

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Tech luminaries (!) want us to pause AI/ChatBot development for 6 months. Many others are jumping on the bandwagon. The message is this: ‘We need to get our bearings straight(ened).’ Which may make sense, but seriously – what are they on?

If the news didn’t cause you to raise an eyebrow, read it again. Then think about it. Most of these people – the ‘luminaries’ in particular –  understand technology and the laws of evolution better than most. The same mechanisms that created their wealth and stature. Even more to the point, Musk started OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT and GPT4. Why is he – and all these other smart people – trying to get the genie back into the bottle? If that makes sense to you give me a call. It certainly is beyond me. Not the desire but the apparent naiveté.

I’ve tried really hard to wrap my head around this one, to understand their logic. Of course it may be me, and here’s my problem: Since they obviously know that this is futile, why? What’s the purpose?

They’re in the middle of it, they know the world and they know business. There is no PAUSE-button. And if there were, all the big money and potential and competition and opportunities would prevent any sane business person from using it. This is wishful thinking – and everybody knows it. So we’re coming back to the ‘why’-question all the time: Why are they doing this? 

Many of us are seeing a development out of control. There are dangers, big dangers along with all the opportunities, the huge potential. Then again, what else is new? When was ‘development’ really under control? Never! It’s a contradiction in terms. Of course we can envision ‘controlled development’ and there are plenty examples, but the big steps forward – since the beginning of time – have definitely been out of control.

It is tempting to start a rant about why it’s different this time, but we’re not going down that road. We’ve been there, done that – for example with nuclear technology. See where it got us. A balance of good things and bad things, some life threatening, some saving the world from extinction. But no real pause, no ‘stop to think’, just a few treaties that gave the parties time to replace old stuff with new (and even more dangerous) stuff.

Here’s the thing – that makes at least some sense: The ‘luminaries’ ARE in the middle of it. They do see something bad – or out of control. They  – at least some of them – contributed to the genie slipping out of the bottle. And they know it cannot be reversed. What they’re doing is taking out insurance against blame. They’re effectively buying the ‘I told you so’ card instead. Smart, isn’t it? Almost like first inventing a virus – digital or physical – with the best of intentions, then ‘leaking’ a warning just before an ‘accidental’ leak of the pathogen, which was very useful in the lab, very dangerous outside. 

I’m being sarcastic and possibly exaggerating. I admire many of these people. Their contributions have been incredible. Still, this is not what most of us would have expected from them. This is not a contribution. If a huge asteroid is closing in on earth, we’d need action, not warnings (you did see ‘Don’t Look Up’ (the movie), right?). If they think the path we’re on is so dangerous, they are in the best of positions to contribute positively, and this is not it. More like the opposite. In my opinion. What’s yours? You owe it to yourself to have one.

Interesting quotes

The introduction of the tractor caused an increase in agricultural productivity so disruptive that it took two world wars, the Great Depression, a reduction in the work week by forty percent, and fifty years to compensate for the increase. At the end we were all wealthier, but it was more painful getting there than it needed to be. There are things that we can do to ease the disruption, things that we can do to ease the coming increase in productivity. Tax automation, not labor. Tax robots, not people. Tax AI, not jobs. Preemptively shorten the work week. Institute a universal basic income. Encourage creativity.

William Murray, The SANS Institute

A pause of AI development is not likely going to happen, and I do not think such a pause will be productive. In my opinion, the OpenAI team did us all a great service by letting ChatGPT escape from the ivory tower. This exposure started a much more informed and broad discussion of the impact of these tools. I just wish OpenAI would spend less effort on its silly (and easily bypassed) attempts to restrict the uses of ChatGPT. Exposing and developing these tools will give us all a chance to figure out what their capabilities and limitations are, and how to use them responsibly.

Johannes Ullrich, The SANS Institute

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