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The American public’s growing fascination with artificial intelligence—its rapid development and ability to change the future—put computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton in a difficult position. He is known as the godfather of AI because of his groundbreaking work on neural networks, a branch of computer science that most researchers have abandoned, while Hinton’s advances led to a revolution. But now he was afraid of what it might bring out. “There’s a whole bunch of risks that concern me and other people. . . . I’m kind of late in worrying about risks,” Hinton said. The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman. “Because I recently concluded that these digital intelligences may be as good as ours. They are able to communicate knowledge with each other better than we can.” Knowing the technology the way he does, Hinton feels it’s not possible to limit the intentions and goals of an AI that will inevitably become smarter than humans. He remains a researcher and no longer has a financial stake in the success of AI, so he is perhaps more forthright about the downsides of the AI revolution than Sam Altman and other tech moguls. He agrees that it’s “unreasonable” for a layman to wish AI would just go away, “but it’s not going to happen. . . . It’s very useful, there are so many opportunities to do good.” What should we do? Rothman asked him. “I don’t know. Smart young people,” Hinton hoped, “should think about, is it possible to prevent [A.I.] from ever wanting to take over.”
A Profile of Rothman by Geoffrey Hinton appears in a special issue of the The New Yorker about artificial intelligence.
This segment refers to Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI (who created ChatGPT). After the conversation took place, Altman was removed from OpenAI by the company’s board. David Remnick interviewed Altman earlier this year for this episode of The New Yorker Radio Hour.