Artificial intelligence

Over 1,300 experts call AI a force for good

  • By Chris Vallance
  • Tech Journalist
July 18, 2023, 4:59 p.m. BST

Updated 1 hour ago

source of images, Getty Images

An open letter signed by more than 1,300 experts says AI is a “force for good, not a threat to humanity”.

It was organized by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, to counter “AI doom”.

Rashik Parmar, chief executive of BCS, said it showed the UK tech community did not believe in the “evil robot lords nightmare scenario”.

In March, tech leaders including Elon Musk, who recently launched an AI company, signed a letter calling for a pause in the development of powerful systems.

This letter suggested that super-intelligent AI posed an “existential risk” to humanity. It was a view echoed by director Christopher Nolan, who told the BBC that the AI ​​executives he spoke to viewed the present moment “as their Oppenheimer moment”. J.Robert Oppenheimer played a key role in the development of the first atomic bomb and is the subject of Mr. Nolan’s latest film.

But the BCS sees the situation in a more positive light, while supporting the need for rules around AI.

Richard Carter is a signatory of the BCS letter. Mr Carter, who founded an AI-powered cybersecurity start-up, believes the dire warnings are unrealistic: “Frankly, this notion that AI is an existential threat to humanity is too far-fetched. We we’re just not in a position where it’s even doable.”

Signatories to the BCS letter come from a variety of backgrounds – business, academia, public bodies and think tanks, though none are as well known as Elon Musk, or run major AI companies like OpenAI.

Those the BBC has spoken about point to the positive uses of AI. Hema Purohit, who leads digital health and social care for the BCS, said the technology offers new ways to detect serious illnesses, for example medical systems that detect signs of problems such as heart disease or diabetes. when a patient has an eye exam. .

She said AI could also help speed up testing of new drugs.

Signatory Sarah Burnett, author of a book on AI and business, highlighted agricultural uses of the technology, from robots that use artificial intelligence to pollinate plants to those that “identify weeds and spray them or zap them with lasers, rather than having entire crops sprayed with weed killer”.


AI-powered robotic laser weeding in action.

The letter says: “The UK can help lead the way by setting professional and technical standards in AI roles, backed by a strong code of conduct, international collaboration and fully resourced regulation.”

In doing so, he says Britain “can become a global synonym for high-quality, ethical and inclusive AI”.

In the fall, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will host a global summit on AI regulation.

While the BCS may argue that existential threats are science fiction, some issues are looming or already presenting problems.

It has been predicted that the equivalent of up to 300 million jobs could be automatedand some companies have already announced that they will suspend hiring in certain positions as a result of AI.

But Mr Carter thinks AI – rather than replacing humans – will increase their productivity. In his own work, he says ChatGPT is useful, but he says he’s wary of trusting it too much, likening it to a “very competent and very excitable 12-year-old kid”.

He argues that companies will always need to have humans involved in the workplace, to take responsibility if things go wrong: “If you completely take the human out of the loop, how do you handle responsibility for a kind of catastrophic event that occurs?”

Like other signatories, he believes regulation will be needed to prevent the misuse of AI.

Ms Purohit says the reason for signing was the need for rules to “ensure that we don’t just rush in and create loads of things without paying attention to testing and governance, and assurance which underlies them.

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