In Sudden Alarm, Tech Doyens Call for a Pause on ChatGPT

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An open letter signed by hundreds of prominent artificial intelligence experts, tech entrepreneurs, and scientists calling for a pause on the development and testing of AI technologies more powerful than OpenAI’s language model GPT-4 so that the risks it may pose can be properly studied.

It warns that language models like GPT-4 can already compete with humans at a growing range of tasks and could be used to automate jobs and spread misinformation. The letter also raises the distant prospect of AI systems that could replace humans and remake civilization.

“We call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4 (including the currently-being-trained GPT-5),” states the letter, whose signatures include Yoshua Bengio, a professor at the University of Montreal considered a pioneer of modern AI, historian Yuval Noah Harari, Skype cofounder Jaan Tallinn, and Twitter CEO Elon Musk.

The letter, which was written by the Future of Life Institute, an organization focused on technological risks to humanity, added that the pause should be “public and verifiable,” and should involve all those working on advanced AI models like GPT-4. It does not suggest how a halt on development could be verified, but adds that “if such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium,” something that seems unlikely to happen within six months.

Microsoft and Google did not respond to requests for comment on the letter. The signatories seem to include people from numerous tech companies that are building advanced language models, including Microsoft and Google. Hannah Wong, a spokesperson for OpenAI, says the company spent more than six months working on the safety and alignment of GPT-4 after training the model. She adds that OpenAI is not currently training GPT-5.

The letter comes as AI systems make increasingly bold and impressive leaps. GPT-4 was only announced two weeks ago, but its capabilities have stirred up considerable enthusiasm and a fair amount of concern. The language model, which is available via ChatGPT, OpenAI’s popular chatbot, scores highly on many academic tests, and can correctly solve tricky questions that are generally thought to require more advanced intelligence than AI systems have previously demonstrated. Yet GPT-4 also makes plenty of trivial, logical mistakes. And, like its predecessors, it sometimes “hallucinates” incorrect information, betrays ingrained societal biases, and can be prompted to say hateful or potentially harmful things.

Part of the concern expressed by the signatures of the letter is that OpenAI, Microsoft, and Google, have begun a profit-driven race to develop and release new AI models as quickly as possible. At such pace, the letter argues, developments are happening faster than society and regulators can come to terms with.

The pace of change—and the scale of investment—is significant. Microsoft has poured $10 billion into OpenAI and is using its AI in its search engine Bing as well as other applications. Although Google developed some of the AI ​​needed to build GPT-4, and previously created its own powerful language models, until this year it chose not to release them due to ethical concerns.

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