While experts warn about the risk of human extinction, the Department of Defense plows full speed ahead…
The recent boardroom drama over the leadership of OpenAI—the San Francisco–based tech startup behind the immensely popular ChatGPT computer program—has been described as a corporate power struggle, an ego-driven personality clash, and a strategic dispute over the release of more capable ChatGPT variants. It was all that and more, but at heart represented an unusually bitter fight between those company officials who favor unrestricted research on advanced forms of artificial intelligence (AI) and those who, fearing the potentially catastrophic outcomes of such endeavors, sought to slow the pace of AI development.
At approximately the same time as this epochal battle was getting under way, a similar struggle was unfolding at the United Nations in New York and government offices in Washington, D.C., over the development of autonomous weapons systems—drone ships, planes, and tanks operated by AI rather than humans. In this contest, a broad coalition of diplomats and human rights activists have sought to impose a legally binding ban on such devices—called “killer robots” by opponents—while officials at the Departments of State and Defense have argued for their rapid development.
At issue in both sets of disputes are competing views over the trustworthiness of advanced forms of AI, especially the “large language models” used in “generative AI” systems like ChatGPT. (Programs like these are called “generative” because they can create human-quality text or images based on a statistical analysis of data culled from the Internet). Those who favor the development and application of advanced AI—whether in the private sector or the military—claim that such systems can be developed safely; those who caution against such action, say it cannot, at least not without substantial safeguards.