Ex-Googler fired for criticizing AI warns that companies won't self-regulate without pressure
"It feels like a gold rush,"By Rob Thubron 7 comments
A hot potato: Dr. Timnit Gebru, the former Google AI researcher who was fired from the company in December 2020 after she tried to speak out against unethical AI, has once again warned about where artificial intelligence is heading. She said that because of the current AI "gold rush," companies won't self-regulate unless they are pressured.
Gebru's firing from Google (the company claims she resigned) as co-leader of its ethical AI team came after she co-authored an academic paper that warned of the inherent biases within AI. Gebru said senior managers at Google demanded the paper be withdrawn, or her name and those of her colleagues be removed from it. Gebru refused the demands, and the paper ultimately led to her departure. The decision caused outrage among Google's workers and was one of the incidents that led to 225 employees forming a union.
Gebru spoke about her experiences to The Guardian. She also had a warning about the current race among companies to introduce better, more powerful AI systems. "It feels like a gold rush," says Gebru. "In fact, it is a gold rush. And a lot of the people who are making money are not the people actually in the midst of it. But it's humans who decide whether all this should be done or not. We should remember that we have the agency to do that."
The AI specialist added that the rush to be the top artificial intelligence company means that many are ignoring safety precautions. "Unless there is external pressure to do something different, companies are not just going to self-regulate," Gebru said. "We need regulation and we need something better than just a profit motive."
It's fair to say that 2023 is becoming the year that AI really takes off. But the technology brings with it plenty of fears. Job losses are an especially contentious area; Wendy's, IBM, and Bluefocus Intelligent Communications Group have announced plans to replace human jobs with AIs. These systems are often used to replace HR positions, too, something that most people don't want to see.
Beyond job losses, there are others who share Gebru's fears about where AI could lead without regulation. Warren Buffett compared its advancement to the development of the atomic bomb, and over two-thirds of Americans believe it could threaten civilization.
Geoffrey Hinton, known as the Godfather of AI, left Google recently over the risks of emerging artificial intelligence tech. He warned that as companies take advantage of more powerful AI systems, they're becoming increasingly dangerous. Even OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has called for more regulation, though some say this plea is only to stifle innovation and help his company stay on top rather than for the good of humanity.