The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


EPISODE # 338

AI SciFi — David Brin on ChatGPT and Whether AI Poses an Existential Threat

Vivid Tomorrows: On Science Fiction and Hollywood (book cover)

Shermer and physicist, science fiction author, and AI expert David Brin discuss:

  • What are AI and AGI?
  • the alignment problem
  • Large Language Models
  • ChatGPT, GPT-4, GPT-5, and beyond
  • The Future of Life Institute’s Open Letter calling for a pause on “giant AI experiments”
  • Asilomar AI principles: “Advanced AI could represent a profound change in the history of life on Earth, and should be planned for and managed with commensurate care and resources.”
  • Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization?
  • The goal of AI research should be to create not undirected intelligence, but beneficial intelligence.
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Time OpEd: “Shut it All Down”
  • “Many researchers steeped in these issues, including myself, expect that the most likely result of building a superhumanly smart AI, under anything remotely like the current circumstances, is that literally everyone on Earth will die. Not as in ‘maybe possibly some remote chance,’ but as in ‘that is the obvious thing that would happen.’ If somebody builds a too-powerful AI, under present conditions, I expect that every single member of the human species and all biological life on Earth dies shortly thereafter.”
  • How can we make future AI systems highly robust, so that they do what we want without malfunctioning or getting hacked?
  • How can we grow our prosperity through automation while maintaining people’s resources and purpose?
  • How can we update our legal systems to be more fair and efficient, to keep pace with AI, and to manage the risks associated with AI?
  • What set of values should AI be aligned with, and what legal and ethical status should it have?

David Brin earned a Bachelor’s degree in astronomy from Caltech, a Master’s in electrical engineering from UC San Diego, and a PhD in astronomy from UC San Diego. From 1983 to 1986 he was a postdoc research fellow at the California Space Institute at UC San Diego, where he also helped establish the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination. An advisor to NASA’s Innovative & Advanced Concepts program, David appears frequently on shows such as Nova, The Universe and Life After People, speaking about science and future trends. His first non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association. His second nonfiction book is Vivid Tomorrows: Science Fiction and Hollywood. He is best known for his science fiction, for which he has won numerous major awards, including the Hugo, Locus, Campbell, and Nebula Awards. His novel The Postman was adapted into a feature film starring Kevin Costner. He even has a minor planet named after him: 5748 Davebrin. He has written a number of articles on Artificial Intelligence, most recently in response to the call for a moratorium on AI research by many leading AI researchers and scientists, which he titled “The Only Way Out of the AI Dilemma.” His website is davidbrin.com.

Five competitive accountability ‘arenas’

Read David Brin’s “Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competitiveness.”

…This early version leaves out a Fifth Arena that actually makes the point even better… sports! No league or team would survive any given weekend without benefiting from tight regulation to keep cheating to a minimum, illustrating a core truth that also applies to the other four great competitive-creative arenas markets, democracy, courts and science….

…that competition only delivers its cornucopia of positive-sum benefits when there is both transparency and cooperatively created regulation to deter the age-old human curse of cheating. Cooperation and competition are essential partners, not opposites.)

This early version appeared as the lead article in the American Bar Association’s Journal on Dispute Resolution (Ohio State University), v.15, N.3, pp 597-618, Aug. 2000.

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on April 8, 2023.

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