Artificial intelligence ‘godfather’ on AI possibly wiping out humanity: ‘It’s not inconceivable’

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Geoffrey Hinton, a computer scientist who has been called “the godfather of artificial intelligence”, says it is “not inconceivable” that AI may develop to the point where it poses a threat to humanity.

The computer scientist sat down with CBS News this week about his predictions for the advancement of AI. He compared the invention of AI to electricity or the wheel.

Hinton, who works at Google and the University of Toronto, said that the development of general purpose AI is progressing sooner than people may imagine. General purpose AI is artificial intelligence with several intended and unintended purposes, including speech recognition, answering questions and translation.

“Until quite recently, I thought it was going to be like 20 to 50 years before we have general purpose AI. And now I think it may be 20 years or less,” Hinton predicted. Asked specifically the chances of AI “wiping out humanity,” Hinton said, “I think it’s not inconceivable. That’s all I’ll say.” 

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Geoffrey Hinton, chief scientific adviser at the Vector Institute, speaks during The International Economic Forum of the Americas (IEFA) Toronto Global Forum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. 

Geoffrey Hinton, chief scientific adviser at the Vector Institute, speaks during The International Economic Forum of the Americas (IEFA) Toronto Global Forum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019.  (Cole Burston via Getty Images)

Artificial general intelligence refers to the potential ability for an intelligence agent to learn any mental task that a human can do. It has not been developed yet, and computer scientists are still figuring out if it is possible.

Hinton said it was plausible for computers to eventually gain the ability to create ideas to improve themselves. 

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“That’s an issue, right. We have to think hard about how you control that,” Hinton said.

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A ChatGPT prompt is shown on a device near a public school in Brooklyn, New York, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. New York City school officials started blocking this week the impressive but controversial writing tool that can generate paragraphs of human-like text. 

A ChatGPT prompt is shown on a device near a public school in Brooklyn, New York, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. New York City school officials started blocking this week the impressive but controversial writing tool that can generate paragraphs of human-like text.  (Online News 72h Photo/Peter Morgan)

But the computer scientist warned that many of the most serious consequences of artificial intelligence won’t come to fruition in the near future.

“I think it’s very reasonable for people to be worrying about these issues now, even though it’s not going to happen in the next year or two,” Hinton said. “People should be thinking about those issues.”

Hinton’s comments come as artificial intelligence software continues to grow in popularity. OpenAI’s ChatGPT is a recently-released artificial intelligence chatbot that has shocked users by being able to compose songs, create content and even write code.

In this photo illustration, a Google Bard AI logo is displayed on a smartphone with a Chat GPT logo in the background.

In this photo illustration, a Google Bard AI logo is displayed on a smartphone with a Chat GPT logo in the background. (Photo Illustration by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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“We’ve got to be careful here,” OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said about his company’s creation earlier this month. “I think people should be happy that we are a little bit scared of this.”

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