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AI 'godfather' quits Google and voices fears about the field

May 2, 2023

Geoffrey Hinton told the NYT scientists should make sure they are in control of AI before they expand it further. The AI pioneer warned of the technology's ability to create convincing hoaxes.

Geoffrey E. Hinton speaks during an exclusive interview by the Yomiuri Shimbun at a Tokyo hotel in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo on Nov. 18, 2019.
The 75-year-old AI pioneer warned of the dangers the technology poses on humanityImage: Masahiro Sugimoto/AP Images/picture alliance

Artificial intelligence pioneer Geoffrey Hinton, often dubbed the "godfather of AI," has quit Google, as he attempts to shed more light on what he says are the many dangers of the technology, free of any employment restrictions.

Hinton said Monday on Twitter that he left the giant company "so that I could talk about the dangers of AI without considering how this impacts Google," denying that he left to freely critcize his former employer.

"Google has acted very responsibly," he said.

Hinton's resignation comes amid growing fears in the field of AI regarding the strides taken within the technology throughout the past year and the dangers they pose to humanity.

Several tech leaders signed in March a letter calling for artificial intelligence developers to pause their work for six months. They warned of potential risks to society and humanity as tech giants such as Google and Microsoft race to build AI programs that can learn independently.

The warning comes after the release earlier of GPT-4, the latest version of the ChatGPT AI program developed by OpenAI with backing from Microsoft.

Since its release last year, ChatGPT has raised fears regarding the threats of AIImage: Mojahid Mottakin/Unsplash

What are Hinton's AI fears?

In an interview with the New York Times on Monday, the 75-year-old Hinton said that AI advancements posed "profound risks to society and humanity."

"Look at how it was five years ago and how it is now," he was quoted as saying. "Take the difference and propagate it forwards. That's scary."

Hinton particularly warned of AI's ability to create largely convincing fake content, such as images. He said the capacity with which the technology can produce fake images and texts which appear genuine creates a reality where people would "not be able to know what is true anymore."

"It is hard to see how you can prevent the bad actors from using it for bad things," he warned.

New regulations for AI systems

Pace of development a shock for Hinton

The AI pioneer also expressed fears over making jobs, and by extension workers, obsolete.

"The idea that this stuff could actually get smarter than people — a few people believed that,” he told the New York Times. "But most people thought it was way off. And I thought it was way off. I thought it was 30 to 50 years or even longer away. Obviously, I no longer think that."

Hinton was behind several groundbreaking pieces of research on neural networks, seen as the groundwork for current AI systems, including the controversial ChatGPT chatbot.

Artificial neural networks take inspiration from biological neural systems and look to mimic how they operate to facilitate machine learning, whether in the form of information processing or learning from experience.

Everything AI systems can already do

In his interview with the Times, Hinton was quoted as saying: "Maybe what is going on in these systems is actually a lot better than what is going on in the brain."

He said that scientists should not further expand AI "until they have understood whether they can control it."

In a letter reported on by US media, Google AI lead scientist Jeff Dean stressed the company's commitment to "a responsible approach to AI," while thanking Hinton following his resignation.

rmt/msh (AFP, Reuters)