The 75-year-old Hinton, known as the "Godfather of AI," has won the Turing Award along with Yann LeCun and Yoshua Bengio for conceptual and engineering breakthroughs that have made deep neural networks a critical component of computing.
Hinton is one of the most respected voices in the tech industry and believes he can freely speak out about the risks of AI. He warned that in the near future, AI would flood the internet with false photos, videos and texts, and eventually the average person would "not be able to know what is true anymore."
According to Hinton, technology also poses a serious risk to "drudge" work that could upend the careers of people working as paralegals, personal assistants and translators. In fact, some employees admit that they are already using AI to cover multiple jobs for them, undertaking tasks such as creating marketing materials and transcribing Zoom meetings so that they do not have to listen.
"Maybe what is going on in these systems, is actually a lot better than what is going on in the [human] brain," he said. "The idea that this stuff could actually get smarter than people – a few people believed that. But most people thought it was way off. And I thought it was way off. I thought it was 30 to 50 years or even longer away. Obviously, I no longer think that."
A part of him now regrets his life's work, he said. He also accused Google of not being a "proper steward" for AI technologies. "I console myself with the normal excuse: If I hadn't done it, somebody else would have," the tech wiz said during a recent interview with the New York Times at his Toronto home.
Before quitting, he had a long conversation with Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google's parent company Alphabet, although it is not clear what was said.
Google's chief scientist Jeff Dean said Hinton "has made foundational breakthroughs in AI" and expressed appreciation for Hinton’s "decade of contributions at Google." "We remain committed to a responsible approach to AI," Dean said in a statement. "We're continually learning to understand emerging risks while also innovating boldly."
Meanwhile, Microsoft has augmented its Bing search engine with a chatbot, challenging Google's core business. Google is now racing to deploy the same kind of technology. "The tech giants are locked in a competition that might be impossible to stop," Hinton warned.
Prior to Hinton speaking up, prominent figures and technocrats Elon Musk of Twitter and Steve Wozniak of Apple, who are open critics of AI, already warned about its "profound risk to society and humanity" that could lead to "catastrophic effects."
After San Francisco start-up OpenAI released the new version of ChatGPT in March, more than 1,000 technology leaders and researchers called for a pause in the rollout of advanced AI, saying more risk assessments were needed. They signed an open letter calling for a six-month moratorium on the development of the systems.
However, billionaire Bill Gates, Pichai and futurist Ray Kurzweil are on the other side of the debate. They hailed the technology as "our time's most important innovation," arguing that it could help cure cancer, solve climate change and boost productivity. Hinton has not previously added his voice to the debate, saying he did not want to speak out until he had formally left Google.
But Hinton isn't the first Google employee to raise a red flag on AI. In July last year, the company fired an engineer who claimed that an AI system had become sentient. Google claimed the engineer violated employment and data security policies. (Related: Google suspends engineer for exposing "sentient" AI chatbot.)
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