We need a much more sophisticated debate about AI

Article by Jamie Susskind: “Twentieth-century ways of thinking will not help us deal with the huge regulatory challenges the technology poses…The public debate around artificial intelligence sometimes seems to be playing out in two alternate realities.

In one, AI is regarded as a remarkable but potentially dangerous step forward in human affairs, necessitating new and careful forms of governance. This is the view of more than a thousand eminent individuals from academia, politics, and the tech industry who this week used an open letter to call for a six-month moratorium on the training of certain AI systems. AI labs, they claimed, are “locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds”. Such systems could “pose profound risks to society and humanity”. 

On the same day as the open letter, but in a parallel universe, the UK government decided that the country’s principal aim should be to turbocharge innovation. The white paper on AI governance had little to say about mitigating existential risk, but lots to say about economic growth. It proposed the lightest of regulatory touches and warned against “unnecessary burdens that could stifle innovation”. In short: you can’t spell “laissez-faire” without “AI”. 

The difference between these perspectives is profound. If the open letter is taken at face value, the UK government’s approach is not just wrong, but irresponsible. And yet both viewpoints are held by reasonable people who know their onions. They reflect an abiding political disagreement which is rising to the top of the agenda.

But despite this divergence there are four ways of thinking about AI that ought to be acceptable to both sides.

First, it is usually unhelpful to debate the merits of regulation by reference to a particular crisis (Cambridge Analytica), technology (GPT-4), person (Musk), or company (Meta). Each carries its own problems and passions. A sound regulatory system will be built on assumptions that are sufficiently general in scope that they will not immediately be superseded by the next big thing. Look at the signal, not the noise…(More)”.