The world is at “a tipping point” beyond which technology may be beyond our control, the president of the International Science Council, Auckland University professor Sir Peter Gluckman says. Gluckman goes as far as to say artificial intelligence is “as big as the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution”.
If it was anyone – or even any expert – voicing those views, they might easily be dismissed as hyperbole. But Gluckman previously served as the Government’s chief science advisor and is now performing a similar function on a much grander scale as president of the Paris-based International Science Council, which has the ear of organisations such as the United Nations and the World Bank.
Speaking from Washington, Gluckman explained the council was designed to be the principal interface between the scientific community and “the multilateral system. Artificial intelligence, biodiversity loss, oceans, social cohesion – there are a few things on the agenda.”
How ChatGPT works
ChatGPT may not be perfect, but it’s proving a faster learner. So what, specifically, are his concerns about AI?
One is the spectre of “AI-controlled autonomous weapons” and another relates to the emerging field of synthetic biology and the potential for AI to automate the development of viruses and bacteria.
“It is the information technology of what ‘alphabet soup’, you want to put on the sequence of DNA. That has the potential to do great things; you can use bacteria to clean up an oil spill. But we’ve just gone through a rather nasty pandemic of a virus whose origin is debated,” he observes, obliquely referring to the theory Covid was developed inside and accidently released from a Chinese laboratory.
Compared to killer robots and synthetic viruses, generative AI tools such as ChatGPT that are designed to spew out words might seem well down the list of worries. Gluckman downplays ChatGPT as “basically a fancy web-scraping tool at this stage”.
But he has an end state in mind. That is one in which “deep fakes” and the “son of ChatGPT” could be used to convincingly put anyone’s words into anyone’s mouth. “I’m not talking about AI in the way it is being used to today, but as it is emerging now, it is changing our relationship with reality,” he says. “Once we can no longer discriminate what is ‘real’ from what is not real, what does that do to us as human beings?