The CEO of OpenAI, the company responsible for creating artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT and image generator Dall-E 2, said “regulation of AI is essential” on Tuesday as he testified in front of a Senate judiciary committee panel.
In his first appearance in front of Congress, Sam Altman said he supported regulatory guardrails for the technology that would enable the benefits of artificial intelligence while minimizing the harms.
“We think that regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful models,” Altman said in his prepared remarks. “For example, the US government might consider licensing and testing requirements for development and release of AI models above a threshold of capabilities.”
Altman said that while the company is building tools that “one day will help us make new discoveries and address some of humanity’s biggest challenges like climate changes and curing cancer”, the current systems aren’t capable of doing these things yet.
He also said that while he believes the benefits of the tools deployed so far “vastly outweigh the risks” the company conducts extensive testing and implements robust safety and monitoring systems before releasing any new system. “Ensuring their safety is vital to our work,” Altman said.
“OpenAI was founded on the belief that artificial intelligence has the ability to improve nearly aspect of our lives but that also that it creates serious risks that we have to work together to manage,” Altman said.
Senators Josh Hawley and Richard Blumenthal say this hearing is just the first step in understanding the technology. Hawley said that the technology will be “transformative in ways we can’t even imagine, with implications for Americans’ elections, jobs and security”.
Blumenthal started the hearing by playing an audio introduction in his voice. “Too often we have seen what happens when technology outpaces regulation,” the recording Blumenthal played said. “The unbridled exploitation of personal data … we have seen how algorithmic biases can perpetuate discrimination and prejudice … this is not the future we want.” But it wasn’t actually Blumenthal’s voice.
“The audio was an AI voice cloning software trained on my floor speeches and the remarks were written by ChatGPT when it was asked how I would open this hearing,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal said he recognizes that society is on the cusp of a new era, and called out what he described as the “promises” of the technology including “curing cancer, developing new understandings of physics and biology, or modeling climate and weather”. He also commended Altman for bringing attention to the pitfalls of the technology.
Potential risks Blumenthal said he’s worried about include deep fakes, weaponized disinformation, housing discrimination, harassment of women and impersonation frauds. “For me, perhaps the biggest nightmare is the looming new industrial revolution, the displacement of millions of workers,” he said.
Renowned and respected AI experts and ethicists including former Google researchers Dr Timnit Gebru, who co-led the company’s ethical AI team, and Meredith Whitaker have been sounding the alarm about the rapid adoption of the technology saying that it is over-hyped and that there isn’t an inherent social good that the technology will help to realize.
“What it really is is a probabilistic engine designed to spit out things that seem plausible based on a prediction of how this should look that is based on massive massive amounts of effectively surveillance data that has been scraped from the web,” Whitaker, now the president of secure messaging app Signal, said in an interview on Meet the Press.
The development of the large language models powering ChatGPT and similar products are also largely in the hands of the same companies that currently dominate the tech industry, entrenching existing power dynamics, Whitaker said.
“There are only a handful of companies in the world that have the combination of data and infrastructural power to create what we’re calling AI from nose-to-tail,” she continued. “It’s the danger of concentrated power and a concentrated power that has extraordinary ability to shape our social and political landscape. We’re now in a position that this overhyped technology is being created, distributed and ultimately shaped to serve the economic interests of these same handful of actors.”
“So the idea that this is going to magically become a source of social good or that this is a natural substance that all of us have the ability to use equally is simply not true,” she said. “That’s a fantasy to market these programs.”