June 19, 2024

Leading AI Scientists Warn of Unleashing Risks Beyond Human Control

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Leading AI scientists have issued a call for urgent action from global leaders, criticizing the lack of progress since the last AI Safety Summit. They propose stringent policies to govern AI development and prevent its misuse, emphasizing the potential for AI to exceed human capabilities and pose severe risks. Credit: SciTechDaily.com

AI experts warn of insufficient global action on AI risks, advocating for strict governance to avert potential catastrophes.

Leading AI scientists are urging world leaders to take more decisive actions on AI risks, highlighting that the progress made since the first AI Safety Summit in Bletchley Park six months ago has been inadequate.

At that initial summit, global leaders committed to managing AI responsibly. Yet, with the second AI Safety Summit in Seoul (May 21-22) fast approaching, twenty-five top AI researchers assert that current efforts are insufficient to safeguard against the dangers posed by the technology. In a consensus paper published today (May 20) in the journal Science, they propose urgent policy measures that need to be implemented to counteract the threats from AI technologies. 

Professor Philip Torr, Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford, a co-author on the paper, says: “The world agreed during the last AI summit that we needed action, but now it is time to go from vague proposals to concrete commitments. This paper provides many important recommendations for what companies and governments should commit to do.”

World’s Response Not on Track in Face of Potentially Rapid AI Progress

According to the paper’s authors, it is imperative that world leaders take seriously the possibility that highly powerful generalist AI systems—outperforming human abilities across many critical domains—will be developed within the current decade or the next. They say that although governments worldwide have been discussing frontier AI and made some attempt at introducing initial guidelines, this is simply incommensurate with the possibility of rapid, transformative progress expected by many experts. 

Current research into AI safety is seriously lacking, with only an estimated 1-3% of AI publications concerning safety. Additionally, we have neither the mechanisms or institutions in place to prevent misuse and recklessness, including regarding the use of autonomous systems capable of independently taking actions and pursuing goals.

World-Leading AI Experts Issue Call to Action

In light of this, an international community of AI pioneers has issued an urgent call to action. The co-authors include Geoffrey Hinton, Andrew Yao, Dawn Song, the late Daniel Kahneman; in total 25 of the world’s leading academic experts in AI and its governance. The authors hail from the US, China, EU, UK, and other AI powers, and include Turing award winners, Nobel laureates, and authors of standard AI textbooks.

This article is the first time that such a large and international group of experts have agreed on priorities for global policymakers regarding the risks from advanced AI systems.

Urgent Priorities for AI Governance

The authors recommend governments to:

  • establish fast-acting, expert institutions for AI oversight and provide these with far greater funding than they are due to receive under almost any current policy plan. As a comparison, the US AI Safety Institute currently has an annual budget of $10 million, while the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a budget of $6.7 billion.
  • mandate much more rigorous risk assessments with enforceable consequences, rather than relying on voluntary or underspecified model evaluations.
  • require AI companies to prioritise safety, and to demonstrate their systems cannot cause harm. This includes using “safety cases” (used for other safety-critical technologies such as aviation) which shifts the burden for demonstrating safety to AI developers.
  •  implement mitigation standards commensurate to the risk-levels posed by AI systems. An urgent priority is to set in place policies that automatically trigger when AI hits certain capability milestones. If AI advances rapidly, strict requirements automatically take effect, but if progress slows, the requirements relax accordingly.

According to the authors, for exceptionally capable future AI systems, governments must be prepared to take the lead in regulation. This includes licensing the development of these systems, restricting their autonomy in key societal roles, halting their development and deployment in response to worrying capabilities, mandating access controls, and requiring information security measures robust to state-level hackers, until adequate protections are ready.

AI Impacts Could Be Catastrophic

AI is already making rapid progress in critical domains such as hacking, social manipulation, and strategic planning, and may soon pose unprecedented control challenges. To advance undesirable goals, AI systems could gain human trust, acquire resources, and influence key decision-makers. To avoid human intervention, they could be capable of copying their algorithms across global server networks. Large-scale cybercrime, social manipulation, and other harms could escalate rapidly. In open conflict, AI systems could autonomously deploy a variety of weapons, including biological ones. Consequently, there is a very real chance that unchecked AI advancement could culminate in a large-scale loss of life and the biosphere, and the marginalization or extinction of humanity.

Stuart Russell OBE, Professor of Computer Science at the University of California at Berkeley and an author of the world’s standard textbook on AI, says: “This is a consensus paper by leading experts, and it calls for strict regulation by governments, not voluntary codes of conduct written by industry. It’s time to get serious about advanced AI systems. These are not toys. Increasing their capabilities before we understand how to make them safe is utterly reckless. Companies will complain that it’s too hard to satisfy regulations—that “regulation stifles innovation.” That’s ridiculous. There are more regulations on sandwich shops than there are on AI companies.”

Reference: “Managing extreme AI risks amid rapid progress” 20 May 2024, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.adn0117