Ex-Googler fired for AI criticism warns companies won’t self-regulate without pressure

Hot potatoes. Dr. Timnit Gebru, a former Google AI researcher who was fired from the company in December 2020 after he tried to speak out against unethical AI, once again warned about where artificial intelligence is headed. He said that due to the current artificial intelligence “gold rush”, companies will not self-regulate until they are pressured.

Gebru’s ouster from Google (the company claims he resigned) as co-leader of its ethical AI team came after he co-authored an academic paper warning of inherent biases within artificial intelligence. Gebru says senior Google managers demanded that the paper be retracted, or that he and his colleagues be named. Gebru refused the demands and the paper eventually led him to leave. The decision sparked outrage among Google employees and was one of the incidents that led to the unionization of 225 employees.

Gebru told The Guardian about his experiences. He also had a warning about the current race among companies to introduce better, more powerful AI systems. “It’s like a gold rush,” says Gebru. “It’s actually a gold rush. And a lot of people who make money aren’t really people who are into it. But it is people who decide whether all this is done or not. We have to remember that we have an agency to do that.”

The artificial intelligence expert added that the rush to be the leading AI company means that many ignore safety precautions. “Unless there’s external pressure to do otherwise, companies just aren’t going to self-regulate,” Gebru said. “We need regulation, and we need something better than just the profit motive.”

It’s fair to say that 2023 is shaping up to be the year AI really takes off. But technology brings with it many fears. Job losses are a particularly contentious area. Wendy’s, IBM and Bluefocus Intelligent Communications Group have announced plans to replace human jobs with AI. These systems are also often used to replace HR positions, which most people don’t want to see.

Beyond the job losses, there are others who share Gebru’s fears about where AI could lead without regulation. Warren Buffett compared its progress to the creation of an atomic bomb, and more than two-thirds of Americans believe it could threaten civilization.

Geoffrey Hinton, known as the godfather of AI, recently left Google due to the risks posed by artificial intelligence. He warned that as companies use more powerful AI systems, they become increasingly dangerous. Even OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has called for more regulation, though some say the plea is only to stifle innovation and help his company stay on top, not for the good of humanity.

Masthead: TechCrunch

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