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Wake up to AI risks now, leading experts urge global governments

22 May 2024

Ahead of the second AI Safety Summit, AI scientists describe the argument that regulation stifles innovation as “ridiculous”, saying not enough is being done by world leaders to tackle AI risks.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Leading AI scientists warn that progress has been insufficient since the first AI Safety Summit in Bletchley Park six months ago. 

Then, the world’s leaders pledged to govern AI responsibly. However, as the second AI Safety Summit in Seoul (21-22 May) approaches, 25 of the world's leading AI scientists say not enough is actually being done to protect us from the technology’s risks. 

In an expert consensus paper published today in Science, they outline urgent policy priorities that global leaders should adopt to counteract the threats from AI technologies. 

Professor Philip Torr, Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford, a co-author on the paper, says: “The world agreed during the last AI summit that we needed action, but now it is time to go from vague proposals to concrete commitments. 

“This paper provides many important recommendations for what companies and governments should commit to do.”

World’s response not on track in face of potentially rapid AI progress 
According to the paper’s authors, it is imperative that world leaders take seriously the possibility that highly powerful generalist AI systems – outperforming human abilities across many critical domains – will be developed within the current decade or the next. 

They say that although governments worldwide have been discussing frontier AI and made some attempt to introduce initial guidelines, this is simply incommensurate with the possibility of rapid, transformative progress expected by many experts. 

Current research into AI safety is seriously lacking, with only an estimated one to three percent of AI publications concerning safety

Additionally, we have neither the mechanisms nor institutions in place to prevent misuse and recklessness, including regarding the use of autonomous systems capable of independently taking actions and pursuing goals.

World-leading AI experts issue call to action
In light of this, an international community of AI pioneers has issued an urgent call to action. The co-authors include Geoffrey Hinton, Andrew Yao, Dawn Song, and the late Daniel Kahneman; in total 25 of the world’s leading academic experts in AI and its governance. The authors hail from the US, China, EU, UK, and other AI powers, and include Turing award winners, Nobel laureates, and authors of standard AI textbooks.

This article is the first time that such a large and international group of experts have agreed on priorities for global policymakers regarding the risks from advanced AI systems.

Urgent priorities for AI governance
The authors recommend governments:

• establish fast-acting, expert institutions for AI oversight and provide these with far greater funding than they are due to receive under almost any current policy plan. As a comparison, the US AI Safety Institute currently has an annual budget of $10 million, while the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a budget of $6.7 billion.

• mandate much more rigorous risk assessments with enforceable consequences, rather than relying on voluntary or underspecified model evaluations.

• require AI companies to prioritise safety, and to demonstrate their systems cannot cause harm. This includes using “safety cases” (used for other safety-critical technologies such as aviation) which shifts the burden for demonstrating safety to AI developers.

• implement mitigation standards commensurate to the risk levels posed by AI systems. An urgent priority is to set in place policies that automatically trigger when AI hits certain capability milestones. If AI advances rapidly, strict requirements automatically take effect, but if progress slows, the requirements relax accordingly.
 
According to the authors, for exceptionally capable future AI systems, governments must be prepared to take the lead in regulation. This includes licensing the development of these systems, restricting their autonomy in key societal roles, halting their development and deployment in response to worrying capabilities, mandating access controls, and requiring information security measures robust to state-level hackers, until adequate protections are ready.

AI impacts could be catastrophic
AI is already making rapid progress in critical domains such as hacking, social manipulation, and strategic planning, and may soon pose unprecedented control challenges. To advance undesirable goals, AI systems could gain human trust, acquire resources, and influence key decision-makers. 

To avoid human intervention, they could be capable of copying their algorithms across global server networks. Large-scale cybercrime, social manipulation, and other harms could escalate rapidly. 

In open conflict, AI systems could autonomously deploy a variety of weapons, including biological ones. Consequently, there is a very real chance that unchecked AI advancement could culminate in a large-scale loss of life and the biosphere, and the marginalisation or extinction of humanity.

Stuart Russell OBE, Professor of Computer Science at the University of California at Berkeley and an author of the world’s standard textbook on AI, says: “This is a consensus paper by leading experts, and it calls for strict regulation by governments, not voluntary codes of conduct written by industry. 

“It’s time to get serious about advanced AI systems. These are not toys. Increasing their capabilities before we understand how to make them safe is utterly reckless. 

“Companies will complain that it’s too hard to satisfy regulations – that ‘regulation stifles innovation’. That’s ridiculous. There are more regulations on sandwich shops than there are on AI companies.”


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