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Kamala Harris, Steven Spielberg, Gene Simmons: public figures weigh in on AI debate

Written by Tue 18 Jul 2023

Image of Kamala Harris, public figures weigh in on AI debate

There’s no slowing down the artificial intelligence (AI) boom, prompting public figures and celebrities to enter the debate.

The advanced technology is rapidly becoming ubiquitous in both business and personal lives, raising concerns around regulations, ethics, and its speed of development.

Well-known public figures like Vice President Kamala Harris, Steven Spielberg, Ashton Kutcher, Robert Downey Jr., Gene Simmons, Christopher Nolan, and more have voiced their opinions on AI.

Public figures fear AI bias

In a roundtable gathering of labour and civil rights leaders in Washington DC, Kamala Harris faced criticism when describing AI as a ‘kind of fancy thing’ made up of ‘two letters’.

Yet, the crux of Harris’ statement addressed a common concern regarding the potentially biased information inputted and outputted when using AI. 

“The machine is taught — and part of the issue here is what information is going into the machine … what then will be produced in terms of decisions and opinions that may be made through that process,” said Harris.

Recent research from the University of Southern California echoed this fear, as more than a third of ‘facts’ used by AI were biased.

Renowned director Steven Spielberg, who ironically directed the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, voiced his concerns on AI bias. He warned about the dangers of personal perspective when inputting data into AI models whilst ‘giving it autonomy’.

“The human soul is unimaginable and ineffable. It cannot be created by any algorithm. This is something that exists only in us. If we were to lose that because books, films, music tracks are being created by the machines we have made. 

“Are we going to let all this happen? It terrifies me,” said Spielberg.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), also reiterated this sentiment when critiquing the UK’s pro-innovation White Paper on AI Regulation.

“If any new technology is to bring innovation while keeping us safe, it needs careful oversight. This includes oversight to ensure that AI does not worsen existing biases in society or lead to new discrimination,” she said.

With data gleaned from social media, blogs and other avenues of content, it is critical to screen this information for biases and misinformation before inputting into AI systems.

The development AI needs careful guidance in order to minimise its dangers and maximise its potential.

Invest or miss out

Other public figures have embraced the age of AI, stressing the necessity for companies to adopt the new tool into their business, or risk missing out.

Ashton Kutcher, who had recently invested £183 million ($240 million) into an AI fund, recognised ChatGPT as a breakthrough and urged business owners to welcome the technology.

“I firmly believe that if you’re a company today and not embracing the changes that are taking place with AI, you’re going to be behind and have a hard time catching up,” said Kutcher in an interview.

Microsoft were quick to bet on the technology, investing more than £7.6 billion ($10 billion) in OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT.

Bill Gates also acknowledged the huge potential of AI to improve lives.

“We should try to balance fears about the downsides of AI, which are understandable and valid, with its ability to improve people’s lives. To make the most of this remarkable new technology, we’ll need to both guard against the risks and spread the benefits to as many people as possible,” said Gates.

The Microsoft co-founder recognised the fears surrounding AI, yet noted that the development of the technology should be positive if it is managed well.

With proper AI usage, advanced systems have the potential to improve business operations and profits, as well as reducing environmental impact or improve accessibility for users with disabilities.

At an AI conference hosted by Amazon back in 2019, Robert Downey Jr. expressed his views on the implementation of AI and how it could contribute to the preservation of the environment.

“Between robotics and nanotechnology, we could clean up the planet significantly, if not totally, in 10 years,” said Downey Jr, who hosted a documentary known as The Age of AI.

The actor has been involved in AI for a number of years through his Footprint Coalition fund used to invest in environmentally-focused AI systems.

Leonardo DiCaprio has also invested in AI through the environmental fund Regeneration VC where he serves as a strategic advisor.

Legislation and accountability

A common argument for the advancement of AI is that the technology will progress whether we like it or not. Therefore, protection and legislation has been highlighted as the most important factor when considering its development.

“I would like to see protections around AI, not to stop the technology,” said actress and Vice President of SAG-AFTRA, Linda Powell.

The need for safety nets to protect the public from unchecked AI advancement is believed to be increasingly necessary.

Co-lead singer of KISS, Gene Simmons, raised his concerns about the use of AI within the music business and the lack of legislation amid the increasing rate of AI adoption.

“When you enter a new, let’s say a new planet … well, clearly there’s opportunity there, there are minerals and things — all kinds of opportunities. Without rules of the game… It’s like playing sports without rules,” said Simmons in a TV interview with Piers Morgan.

Filmmaker Christopher Nolan highlighted the need for accountability when dealing with innovation and the potential for unintended outcomes regarding AI. 

During a special screening of his new film ‘Oppenheimer’, Nolan likened the development of AI to an ‘Oppenheimer moment’, questioning the responsibilities of AI developers.

“When you talk to leaders in the field of AI, as I do from time to time, they see this moment right now as their Oppenheimer moment. They’re looking to his story to say, ‘What are our responsibilities? How can we deal with the potential unintended consequences?’

“Sadly, for them, there are no easy answers,” said Nolan.

Nolan expressed fear that the question of accountability isn’t being asked enough by people in Hollywood.

“People in my business talking about it, they just don’t want to take responsibility for whatever that algorithm does. Applied to AI, that’s a terrifying possibility. Terrifying,” added Nolan.

Currently, governments and other authorities appear to be proactively tackling the dangers of AI.

The AI Act is a proposed European law that would be the first law on AI by a major regulator, determining to what extent AI has a positive rather than negative effect.

The UK is also making strides to tackle AI ethics through a new AI White Paper and Taskforce.

Is AI a threat to our future?

Many public figures have warned of the potential for AI to do irrevocable harm to society if left untethered by legislation and regulation. 

Despite co-founding OpenAI, Elon Musk had criticised AI in the past, likening the technology to an immortal dictator.

“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that,” said Musk at the MIT AeroAstro Centennial Symposium in 2014.

More recently, Musk signed a letter with thousands of other signatories in April 2023 to call for a six-month pause on the development of systems ‘more powerful’ than that of GPT-4.

Stephen Hawking, the famed theoretical physicist, also feared the elimination of humanity altogether.

“If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that improves and replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that outperforms humans,” he warned.

Hawking maintained that whilst the potential of more primitive forms of AI had proven very useful, he feared the consequences of creating something that can match or surpass humans.

As the influence of artificial intelligence continues to expand across sectors, it is clear that the issues of ethics, bias, legislation, and accountability are on the forefront of public discourse.

The debate is far from over. The narratives drawn by these public figures highlight the complex and multi-faceted impact of AI on society.

Moving forward in the essentially unstoppable age of AI, it is essential that we find the balance between embracing technological advancements and mitigating potential risks. Thoughtful legislation and accountability measures must go hand-in-hand with AI development to ensure that we can reap its benefits while safeguarding against potential pitfalls.

As the conversation evolves and AI continues its march forward, the need for informed, diverse, and proactive voices in this debate becomes ever more critical. It is through such discourse that we can navigate the complexities of the AI boom, ensure its responsible use, and truly unlock its potential.

Image Credit: Gage Skidmore

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Written by Tue 18 Jul 2023

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