A decision by a computer scientist known as the godfather of artificial intelligence (AI) to quit his job over growing concerns of where the technology is going is understandable, says Patricia Thaine, the co-founder and CEO of Private AI .
Last week, news broke that Geoffrey Hinton, 75, a British-Canadian cognitive psychologist and computer scientist, had announced his resignation from Google in a statement to the New York Times, over the direction AI was heading in.
In a subsequent interview with the BBC, he stated that some of the dangers of AI chatbots were “quite scary. Right now, they are not more intelligent than us, as far as I can tell. But I think they soon may be.”
And on Friday, in another interview, this time with Reuters, he said that AI could pose a “more urgent threat to humanity than climate change.
“I would not like to devalue climate change, I would not like to say, ‘You shouldn’t worry about climate change.’ That is a huge risk too, but I think this might end up being more urgent.
“With climate change, it is very easy to recommend what you should do: you just stop burning carbon. If you do that, eventually things will be okay. For this, it is not at all clear what you should do.”
Hinton, who also taught at the University of Toronto, has received numerous awards for his work in AI and machine learning (ML), including the coveted A.M. Turing Award, known as the Nobel Prize of computing, in 2019.
According to a news release issued by the university at the time, Hinton won the award for his decades-long work advancing the field of artificial intelligence.
“Hinton, a U of T University Professor Emeritus who also works at Google, was named alongside two of his friends and long-time collaborators – Yann LeCun, of Facebook and New York University, and Yoshua Bengio, of Université de Montréal.
“The Association for Computing Machinery lauded the three for making conceptual and engineering breakthroughs in deep neural networks – an area of AI inquiry that was once deemed fanciful, but is now considered transformational and is touching the lives of billions of people.”
Thaine is well versed in Hinton’s accomplishments, as her roots with the university go deep; she is currently a Computer Science PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto. She launched Private AI in 2019 along with fellow machine learning and privacy experts, all of whom were part of the institution’s computer science program.
As for his resignation from Google, she said there are obviously a lot of concerns about AI at the moment, and that she understood why somebody would want to be able to speak “without having to have the weight of representing an organization behind them. I think he spoke aptly about that on Twitter, as well to clarify why he resigned with regards to concerns.
“What we are seeing around the world is governments creating legislation to address those concerns. The major point they are trying to get across with it is to maintain flexibility, while also preventing harm, which is so difficult because we just do not understand those harms yet.”
Private AI was formed to provide data privacy software offerings, and the day before Hinton dropped his bombshell, the company released PrivateGPT, a product designed to help companies safely leverage OpenAI’s chatbot without compromising customer or employee privacy.
“Generative AI will only have a space within our organizations and societies if the right tools exist to make it safe to use,” said Thaine last week.