Technology - March 18, 2023

The Double-Edged Sword of AGI: Unlocking Creativity and Threatening Jobs

ChatGPT on a laptop

Observers predict that the ascent of artificial general intelligence, considered unavoidable in Silicon Valley, will usher in a level of change that surpasses anything the world has ever witnessed. The question remains: are we prepared for it?

The advancement in AGI, or artificial general intelligence, could have a significant impact on society, both positive and negative. On the positive side, AGI could free people from menial tasks and usher in a new era of creativity. Siqi Chen, the CEO of San Francisco startup Runway, notes that previous technological advances, from electricity to the internet, ignited powerful social change. However, AGI represents a new level of change that is “orders of magnitude greater than every other technological change we’ve ever had in history.”

This monumental shift is both exciting and frightening. Chen envisions using AGI to tackle climate change, but also warns that it is a tool that must be as “steerable as possible.” The development of AGI is a “double-edged sword,” Chen says, as it has the potential to bring about significant societal change, while also posing a threat to jobs and raising insurmountable social issues.

The release of ChatGPT late last year brought the idea of AGI one giant leap closer to reality. OpenAI, the company behind the generative software, released an even more powerful version of the technology, GPT-4. The company claims that the new technology can not only process text but also images, and produce more complex content such as legal complaints or video games. As such, it “exhibits human-level performance” on some benchmarks.

The success of OpenAI has sparked an arms race of sorts in Silicon Valley, as tech giants seek to push their generative AI tools to the next level. However, they remain wary of chatbots going off the rails. AI-infused digital assistants from Microsoft and Google can already summarize meetings, draft emails, create websites, craft ad campaigns, and more, giving us a glimpse of what AGI will be capable of in the future.

Despite the benefits of AGI, there are concerns over the threat to human jobs. Chen acknowledges that the technology could one day build a startup like his, or an even better version, raising questions about how people will make a living and avoid homelessness. The technology also puts a question mark over creative authenticity, as songs, images, art, and more are cranked out by software instead of people.

Furthermore, AGI raises questions about education, as people may rely on software to do their thinking for them. There are also concerns about bias, accuracy, and adaptability to different countries and cultures. Sharon Zhou, co-founder of a generative AI company, notes that AGI is “probably coming at us faster than we can process.” The technology raises an existential question for humanity: “If there is going to be something more powerful than us and more intelligent than us, what does that mean for us?” Zhou asks.

OpenAI plans to build AGI gradually with the aim of benefiting all of humanity, but it has conceded that the software has safety flaws. Safety is a “process,” according to OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, adding that it would be “highly desirable” for companies to “come up with some kind of process that allows for slower releases of models with these completely unprecedented capabilities.” However, slowing down is not part of the ethos for now.

Zhou notes that the power is concentrated around those who can build AGI. They make the decisions, and they are inclined to move fast. However, there is a risk that if one country figures out AGI faster, they will dominate. This fear invokes the Cold War era, as the international order itself could be at stake. Zhou suggests that the AI race is immense pressure between the US and China, and the fear is not to stop because we cannot lose.

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