Scientists' warnings about AI 'can't necessarily be trusted'

Scientists’ warnings about the dangers of artificial intelligence can’t necessarily be trusted because of incorrect claims they made about Covid, ex-head of MI6 claims

  • Sir Richard Dearlove, 78, said scientists had gone ‘off piste’ during the pandemic 

The former head of the MI6 who was in charge during the UK’s invasion of Iraq has claimed scientists’ warnings about the dangers of artificial intelligence can necessarily be trusted because of incorrect claims they made about Covid-19.

Sir Richard Dearlove said that as ‘brilliant’ scientists had gone ‘off piste’ during the pandemic, he was sceptical of experts telling him AI will destroy humanity.

The 78-year-old retired British spy chief also said that the suggestion that artificial intelligence and human intelligence are the same is an ‘extreme interpretation’.

Speaking on the One Decision podcast, Sir Richard said: ‘Lots of supposedly brilliant scientists, and they are brilliant, said all sorts of things during the pandemic – about the pandemic and the virus.

‘And, we now discover a lot of what they were saying was scientifically off-piste, wrong.

Sir Richard Dearlove said that as ‘brilliant’ scientists had gone ‘off piste’ during the pandemic, he was sceptical of experts telling him AI will destroy humanity

Security personnel stand guard outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan as members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus make a visit

‘They actually used their knowledge and speciality to influence government policy.

‘So at the moment, I am in a mood to be quite sceptical when some brilliant scientist says to me “I know all about this and I am going to tell you authoritatively what is going to happen”.’

He said he reacts with a degree of cynicism when scientists share extreme information in regards to AI.

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He added: ‘Of course, the moment someone like me starts criticising or commenting I am dismissed, because [they say] “What the hell do you know about artificial intelligence?” I have been involved in it all my life.’

Sir Richard, who was head of MI6 during the invasion of Iraq, made the remarks after American computer scientist Eliezer Yudkowsky spoke about how humanity needs to ‘wake up and decide to live’ by controlling fast-developing AI.

Yudkowsky, an artificial intelligence researcher, said at present AI doesn’t pose a risk to humanity but this will likely change in the future.

The 43 year old said: ‘Well, the current crop of AIs do not pose an existential risk to the human race, because the current AIs are not smarter than us.

‘They are, however, as stupid as they will ever be again.

‘They continue pushing. [That is] the reason why a bunch of university professors recently came on board the extinction risk message, [because] they were not expecting AI to get as far as it did.’

He said that not controlling AI by making it ‘nice’ could lead to the end of humanity.

Yudkowsky said: ‘They can see that it is getting smarter and smarter and we don’t have the technology, we don’t have the knowledge, we don’t have the science to take something that’s smarter than us – and point it in a direction to make it be nice.

‘It’s possible in principle, [but] we don’t know how to do it.

‘If you have something around that is smarter than you, and doesn’t care about you at all then that’s an extinction event.’

Yudkowsky is best known for popularising ideas related to ‘friendly artificial intelligence’, and said he tried to draw attention to the problems AI could pose 20 years ago – but was shut down.

He said people would say to him, ‘Who is to say you can do that with a computer’ or ‘This is going to be hundreds of years in the future’.

The computer scientist added: ‘I pray the sceptics are correct and it’s going to be another 10 years before we get up to the extinction level – or even 15 years. But, how do they know.’

In tackling potential risks of AI, Yudkowsky suggested the best option would be for the heads of state in the US, UK and China to get together and ‘announce that all the AI chips are going to be in supervised, monitored facilities’.

He cryptically added that issues with AI will be okay if ‘humanity decides not to do the stupid thing, humanity wakes up one day and decides to live’.

Sir Richard criticised what Yudkowsky said, adding: ‘When you are an authoritative scientist in this area, and you put forward an extreme view – people listen to you.

‘If you say something as alarming and as all embracing as he has said, people will sit up, bolt up right and think ‘My God, what the hell is he telling us’.’

Sir Richard particularly didn’t agree with Yudkowsky’s view that AI and humans are the same.

He added: ‘When he said ‘Oh the human brain is just another computer’,

‘Now, do we really accept that there is no distinction between the nature of human intelligence and the nature of systems built mechanically which are artificial intelligence?

‘There is almost a philosophical question, it’s certainly an existential question rather than a scientific question.

‘I’m afraid that I can’t accept that approach.

‘I am suspicious of somebody who puts forward this extraordinary and extreme interpretation of AI.’

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