Opinion | AI research needs to be reined in

The never-ending arms race to create the most powerful AI is dangerous and needs to be reined in.

Peter Anders, Opinions Columnist

The field of AI has gone farther than we thought was ever possible.

Several prominent scientists and experts in the technology sector wrote an open letter on March 22 suggesting that until its implications are fully understood, there should be a pause in AI development more powerful than GPT-4. The suggestion is for the pause to last six months.

The letter has some valid arguments, but it does not go far enough. Instead of six months, five years would be more efficient as it would give us more time to fully understand the technology we are recklessly pursuing.

If there was some collective agreement among the leading companies in the field of AI research to pause development for this period, it will not completely halt research. Because many companies are invested in AI, this agreement would likely slow down development but not halt it completely.

The dangers that AI possess are hypothetical, but there is a reason heavy debate is ongoing in the tech industry about whether or not this technology is even worth it.

In the films The Terminator and 2001: A Space Odyssey, AI technology turned on its creators. If we don’t take measures to regulate AI now, this reality is a possible outcome.

A good comparison here would be with the creation of the Morris Worm in 1988. It was originally created by a graduate student just out of plain curiosity, yet it arguably helped popularize the groundwork of future computer worms and viruses that plague us currently.

The White House has already laid out clear arguments for why the matter of AI is of concern to Americans and the whole world. Beyond just the possible calamities, there is also the matter of automation.

There is a widespread fear in many industries that AI will render them entirely irrelevant. From artists to writers, and even teaching as a profession might be more and more reliant on automation, eliminating millions of jobs with few viable alternatives for those being replaced.

The five years pause could give industries and legislators a pause to see how to integrate AI into the economy in a way that does not cost the jobs of millions of Americans.

If companies and industry leaders cannot come together in support of a longer period of paused AI research, lawmakers should step in.

AI is dangerously unregulated as a research field, in a way few other fields are able to escape supervision. Tech as a field is already heavily underregulated in the U.S., and this technology is evolving faster than it can be regulated.

Companies are in an arms race to develop the most powerful AIs possible. This hype and market trend leads to companies with questionable track records, such as Facebook and Twitter, to cut corners in pursuit of profits.

If lawmakers and industry leaders do not regulate AI development in some capacity immediately, AI technology will become far more dangerous than nuclear weapons.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.