‘Godfather Of AI’ Quits Fearing Existential Risk Of His Work: Is It Time For The UK To Take A Step Back?

Whilst people have been calling out artificial intelligence (AI) left right and centre for all the dangers it could cause to society, the latest criticism has come from a more surprising party. Geoffrey Hinton, known as the ‘godfather of AI’, has made a shocking quit from the field and issued a warning over the growing dangers of the sector.

This is the latest hit out against AI and has come after the criticisms of others in the sector including Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak who signed an open letter in March calling for a pause on all developments so that safety measures could be designed and put in place.

The open letter in March and now the condemnations made by Dr Hinton come at a bad time for the UK government which is desperately trying to accelerate the speed of implementing AI in the country – is it time for Sunak’s government to start heeding the growing worries and advice?

The ‘Godfather’ Of Artificial Intelligence 

Geoffrey Hinton, 75, is a British-Canadian cognitive psychologist and computer scientist who has, for the last decade, worked for Google as well as the University of Toronto. 

Dr Hinton has recently decided to resign from Google, issuing a statement to the New York Times that admits his worries about the field and regrets he had for his work in it. 

Dr Hinton has made significant contributions to the development of AI. In 1986 he published a highly cited paper on the backpropagation algorithm for training multi-layer neural networks alongside David Rumelhart and Ronald J. Williams. In AI, neural networks are systems that are similar to the human brain in the way they learn and process information. They enable AIs to learn from experience as a person would in what is known as deep learning.

Dr Hinton has since become a leading figure in the deep-learning community and his development of AlexNet in collaboration with his students was a breakthrough in the field of computer vision. 

His pioneering research on neural networks and deep learning has paved the way for current AI systems like ChatGPT. 

“they’re not more intelligent than us…But I think they soon may be.”

Despite pioneering the way for modern developments in AI, Dr Hinton’s statement in the New York Times reflects on his regrets and worries about the direction in which the field is headed. 

Although Dr Hinton has also clarified that his decision to leave Google was due to his age and that it was “time to retire”, his worries over the dangers of AI are palpable in his statements. 

When asked by the BBC about his opinions on the latest craze in technology – AI chatbots – Dr Hinton admitted he thought they were “quite scary”

“Right now, they’re not more intelligent than us, as far as I can tell. But I think they soon may be”, he admitted. 

The cognitive psychologist and computer scientist explained that his primary concern regarding chatbots is that they could soon overtake the level of information that a human brain holds.

“Right now, what we’re seeing is things like GPT-4 eclipses a person in the amount of general knowledge it has and it eclipses them by a long way. In terms of reasoning, it’s not as good, but it does already do simple reasoning,” 

“And given the rate of progress, we expect things to get better quite fast. So we need to worry about that”, he stated.  

To give an example of the dangers AI could induce, Dr Hinton stated: “You can imagine, for example, some bad actor like Putin decided to give robots the ability to create their own sub-goals”. These sub-goals could be, for example, to get more power –  something that these bots would then go on to try and achieve.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the kind of intelligence we’re developing is very different from the intelligence we have.”

“We’re biological systems and these are digital systems. And the big difference is that with digital systems, you have many copies of the same set of weights, the same model of the world.”

“And all these copies can learn separately but share their knowledge instantly. So it’s as if you had 10,000 people and whenever one person learnt something, everybody automatically knew it. And that’s how these chatbots can know so much more than any one person.”


Time To Look Around And Take A Step Back 

Despite the open letter calling for a pause on all developments more advanced than the current version of ChatGPT, the expansion of AI around the globe is still rapidly churning on.

Alas, those who have spoken out against AI have been broadly ignored and, instead, the development of this intelligence is simply accelerating by the minute. 

Everybody wants a piece of the glory in developing the next big thing in AI – something that has been acknowledged by Dr Hinton as one of the main reasons why putting a pause on AI would be difficult.

There is now an ongoing international AI competition taking place which will make it near impossible for there to be a total halt to its development. “Even if everybody in the US stopped developing it, China would just get a big lead,” Dr Hinton explained. 

Currently, the US is the top dog in the AI industry due to so many major tech companies being headquartered in the States. This has left everyone trailing at the heels of the US and desperate to reach its lofty heights. 

Behind the US, China is a close second in the AI superpower race. This is followed by other countries such as Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt are both determined not to lose out in the AI ‘arms race’. The Prime Minister and Chancellor have set the development of the UK technology and AI sector at the top of their priority list. 

Mr Hunt has insisted that AI will boost Britain’s economy, warning that Britain simply cannot ‘opt out’ of the AI race and that the UK will need to put in a significant amount of work to win the battle over the new technology. 

Mr Hunt announced that £900m will be put towards AI as part of the Spring Budget so that the UK can keep up with the rapidly growing AI industry that is flourishing abroad. More recently, Mr Sunak announced at Business Connect that a further £100m in government funding will be put towards the creation of the Foundation Model Taskforce which will also work to accelerate the UK’s generative AI sector.

This means that a whopping £1bn in government funding has been put forward this spring to expedite the UK’s technology and AI sector. 

The immense amount of investment the UK government is channelling into AI is undeniably worrying when put in context with the fears of Dr Hinton. Whilst this funding may lead to boosting the country’s economy in brand new ways, it is becoming clear that the implementation of this intelligence may also have significant dangers. 

So, is it time for the UK to take heed of the advice given by the ‘godfather of AI’ and take a step back from this tech arms race, or is it simply time to accept that the dangers of AI will just need to be accepted as part of the new technological world?