AI doomsday talk is too sci-fi… it’s a tool, not a creature: Sam Altman


For OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, the risk of AI is not that it will threaten humanity, but that the tech can be a tool of oppression in the hands of dictators. Altman was responding to a point raised by Samir Jain of The Times of India Group, in an interactive session that was part of the ET Conversations event.
Jain asked Altman about Harari’s warnings against AI. “I had dinner with Harari a couple of nights ago. We talked about this, in Tel Aviv,” Altman shared. While a lot of the concerns out there are too sci-fi in his thinking (Altman was likely including Elon Musk’s talk of ‘civilisation destruction’ here), the scenario Altman finds truly scary and “not super faraway” is the misuse of AI by oppressive regimes.
“We need to build these systems in a way to address that risk and I think it is going to be a very complicated, global geopolitical challenge. ” In this context, Altman and Jain discussed an analogy between AI and nuclear technology, for the purpose of regulation. Just as nuclear materials can be both beneficial and dangerous and are therefore audited by a body like IAEA, so should AI.
Another of Jain’s questions twinned the two fundamental aspects of humanity — intelligence and love. If love is as important for humans as intelligence, what’s been the progress in making AI capable of love, Jain asked Altman?“I hope that we don’t all fall in love with robots, that would be deeply depressing,” Altman answered. What he hopes happens instead is that we all become the best versions of ourselves, with AI acting as guide and assistant.
“This question of whether AI is a tool or a creature is something that really confuses a lot of people. And it confused me for a while too. But I now think we are very much building a tool and not a creature. And I am very happy about that. I think we should and will continue in that direction,” Altman elaborated.
But if the tool becomes too powerfulit will reduce the individual satisfaction we get, from jobs and from creativity, worried CBFC chairperson Prasoon Joshi. “I think what happens when you give people better tools is that they do better things, they do more impressive things. The floor lifts up, the expectations lift up,” Altman replied.
On the topic of creating something that doesn’t exist today, Swati Bhargava, co-founder of CashKaro, asked Altman how he keeps inspiration high across his company. Altman shared, “We really care about talent density. A lot of companies have talented people but if you have even a few mediocre people mixed in there they kind of act like the neutron absorbers and stuff just goes wrong. So, we really try to have extreme talent density. ”
After doing AI for so long, what has Altman learned about humans? His answer to this question from CRED founder Kunal Shah would have surprised many: “I grew up implicitly thinking that intelligence was this really special human thing and somewhat magical. And I now think that it is sort of the fundamental property of matter. ”
“The history of scientific discovery is that humans are less and less at the centre. With AI we are even further and further away from main character energy,” Altman said. That might disturb many, but AI’s best known evangelist clearly has a different perspective on the world.

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