The AI Disaster Scenario

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Is it right to freak out? Is it wrong? Will AI end the human race? But also: Aren’t these tools awe-inspiring?

Artificial-intelligence news in 2023 has moved so quickly that I’m experiencing a kind of narrative vertigo. Just weeks ago, ChatGPT seemed like a minor miracle. Soon, however, enthusiasm curdled into skepticism—maybe it was just a fancy auto-complete tool that couldn’t stop making stuff up. In early February, Microsoft’s announcement that it had acquired OpenAI sent the stock soaring by $100 billion. Days later, journalists revealed that this partnership had given birth to a demon-child chatbot that seemed to threaten violence against writers and requested that they dump their wives.

These are the questions about AI that I can’t stop asking myself:

What if we’re wrong to freak out about Bing, because it’s just a hyper-sophisticated auto-complete tool?

The best criticism of the Bing-chatbot freak-out is that we got scared of our reflection. Reporters asked Bing to parrot the worst-case AI scenarios that human beings had ever imagined, and the machine, having literally read and memorized those very scenarios, replied by remixing our work.