The World Must Reconcile AI Skepticism and AI Optimism
A necessity to not break apart this increasingly polarized field
Controversial topics are weird. People spontaneously gather around black vs white dichotomies: if you’re not with me, you’re against me. That's happening in AI. You may have noticed that, as its popularity grows, public opinion has become extremely polarized.
We have those who support pure research vs those who only value ready-to-use products. Those who embrace open source and open science vs those who find excuses to remain—or become—closed. Those who want AI to focus on science and understanding vs those who prefer engineering and applicability. Those who advocate for progress at all costs vs those who argue we should slow down and reflect. Those who fear existential risks vs those who are enviably—even foolishly—optimistic. Those who prioritize building AI from an ethical standpoint vs those who rank alignment efforts above everything else. I could go on and on.
I’m sure you could easily locate high-profile AI people like Sam Altman, Timnit Gebru, and Yann LeCun in each of those groups without much trouble. These artificial dualities appear to be well-defined if we attend to people’s public stances.
But the reality is more nuanced—like a rainbow of gray tones. If we look closer we start to notice that people hold, in one or more regards, beliefs that “shouldn’t” go together. Here's my take: It's possible—and even desirable—to have apparently conflicting views on the present and future of AI.
The startling pace of progress, the intrinsic unpredictability of the tech, the vast potential for transversal upside (and also downside), and the stated limitations and unforeseeable benefits make it absurd to hold a monolithic—and unchanging—stance on all aspects of AI.
I'm critical and skeptical: I believe there’s a non-trivial probability that AI will cause more short- and long-term harm than wellness if we continue in the current direction. I’m also unsure whether we’re doing a good job of portraying a faithful image of what AI is truly achieving. But I'm also optimistic. Done well, AI is among the best quests we’ve, as humanity, ever embarked on. As I see it, these two stances are compatible, easily reconcilable, and even more powerful together than apart.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial