‘Out of control’ AI is a threat to civilisation, warns Elon Musk

·3-min read
Elon Musk gestures as he speaks during a press conference - JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
Elon Musk gestures as he speaks during a press conference - JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Elon Musk has warned that “out of control” development of artificial intelligence (AI) could “pose profound risks to society and humanity”.

The Tesla chief and thousands of other academics and tech industry figures have signed an open letter demanding that “all AI labs... immediately pause” work on advancing AI and called for governments to temporarily ban further research if they do not.

Mr Musk and other signatories, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and the head of the Doomsday Clock, have been alarmed by recent rapid advances in AI.

“Out of control” development by “unelected tech leaders” could lead to the development of “nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us”, they warned in the letter.

Further advances “risk loss of control of our civilization” unless proper checks and balances are put in place.

Concern has grown after the recent public success of ChatGPT. Academics at Microsoft, which has invested in the technology, recently said the latest version of the software, GPT-4, was showing signs of approaching human-level intelligence.

The open letter urged “all AI labs to immediately pause for at least six months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4” and called for governments to ban further AI research along those lines.

The open letter stopped short of calling for a complete halt to AI research, with its authors writing that they “merely [want] a stepping back from the dangerous race to ever-larger unpredictable black-box models with emergent capabilities”.

The letter, from the Future of Life Institute, continued: “This pause should be public and verifiable, and include all key actors. If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium.”

AI regulation has not kept pace with the recent explosive growth in the technology. Mr Musk and his peers want industry standards to be developed to stop the risk of AI running out of control.

Other signatories to the online open letter include researchers from OpenAI’s rivals, Google Deepmind, and the president of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the organisation behind the Doomsday Clock. The clock is meant to signify “how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making”.

On Wednesday, the Government published its AI regulation white paper, setting out how it intends to police the technology.

The Government said it was “premature” to regulate the advanced technology used by ChatGPT, saying strict rules “would risk stifling innovation, preventing AI adoption, and distorting the UK’s thriving AI ecosystem”.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said: “Having exited the European Union we are free to establish a regulatory approach that enables us to establish the UK as an AI superpower

“Our pro-innovation approach will also act as a strong incentive when it comes to AI businesses based overseas establishing a presence in the UK.”

A government spokesman said: “The Government will avoid heavy-handed legislation which could stifle innovation and take an adaptable approach to regulating AI.

“Instead of giving responsibility for AI governance to a new single regulator, the government will empower existing regulators – such as the Health and Safety Executive, Equality and Human Rights Commission and Competition and Markets Authority – to come up with tailored, context-specific approaches that suit the way AI is actually being used in their sectors.”