How Should We Manage AI threats?

Oct 9, 2019
Reading time
2 min read
How Should We Manage AI threats?

Dear friends,

Last week, I saw a lot of social media discussion about a paper using deep learning to generate artificial comments on news articles. I’m not sure why anyone thinks this is a good idea. At best, it adds noise to the media environment. At worst, it’s a tool for con artists and propagandists.

A few years ago, an acquaintance pulled me aside at a conference to tell me he was building a similar fake comment generator. His project worried me, and I privately discussed it with a few AI colleagues, but none of us knew what to do about it. It was only this year, with the staged release of OpenAI’s GPT-2 language model, that the question went mainstream.

Do we avoid publicizing AI threats to try to slow their spread, as I did after hearing about my acquaintance’s project? Keeping secret the details of biological and nuclear weapon designs has been a major force slowing their proliferation. Alternatively, should we publicize them to encourage defenses, as I’m doing in this letter?

Efforts like the OECD’s Principles on AI, which state that “AI should benefit people and the planet,” give useful high-level guidance. But we need to develop guidelines to ethical behavior in practical situations, along with concrete mechanisms to encourage and empower such behavior.

We should look to other disciplines for inspiration, though these ideas will have to be adapted to AI. For example, in computer security, researchers are expected to report vulnerabilities to software vendors confidentially and give them time to issue a patch. But AI actors are global, so it’s less clear how to report specific AI threats.

Or consider healthcare. Doctors have a duty to care for their patients, and also enjoy legal protections so long as they are working to discharge this duty. In AI, what is the duty of an engineer, and how can we make sure engineers are empowered to act in society’s best interest?

To this day, I don’t know if I did the right thing years ago, when I did not publicize the threat of AI fake commentary. If ethical use of AI is important to you, I hope you will discuss worrisome uses of AI with trusted colleagues so we can help each other find the best path forward. Together, we can think through concrete mechanisms to increase the odds that this powerful technology will reach its highest potential.

Keep learning!



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