‘Godfather of AI’ quits Google after a decade to warn of dangers


Artificial intelligence pioneer Geoffrey Hinton speaks at the Thomson Reuters Financial and Risk Summit in Toronto, December 4, 2017.

Mark Blinch | Reuters

Geoffrey Hinton, nicknamed “the godfather of AI”, obtained his doctorate. in artificial intelligence 45 years ago and has remained one of the most respected voices in the field.

Over the past decade, Hinton worked part time To Google, between the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley and Toronto. But he left the internet giant, and he told the New York Times that he will warn the world of the potential AI threat, which he believes will arrive sooner than he previously thought.

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“I thought it was 30 to 50 years or even longer,” Hinton told The Times, in an article published Monday. “Obviously, I don’t think about that anymore.”

Hinton, who was named the winner of the 2018 Turing Award for conceptual and technical breakthroughs, said he now regrets his life’s work, The Times reported, citing short-term risks that AI will take jobs and the proliferation of fake photos, videos and text that looks real to the average person.

In a statement to CNBC, Hinton said, “I now think the digital intelligences we’re creating are very different from biological intelligences.”

Hinton referenced the power of GPT-4, the most advanced large language model (LLM) from startup OpenAI, whose technology has gone viral since the launch of chatbot ChatGPT late last year. Here is how he described what is happening now:

“If I have 1,000 digital agents who are all exact clones with identical weights, any time an agent learns to do something, everyone immediately knows because they share weights,” Hinton told CNBC. “Biological agents cannot do this. Thus, collections of identical digital agents can acquire vastly more knowledge than any individual biological agent. This is why GPT-4 knows vastly more than any person.”

Bill Gates calls OpenAI's GPT the most significant technological advancement since 1980

Hinton sounded the alarm even before leaving Google. In an interview with CBS News airing in March, Hinton was asked what he thought were “the odds of AI wiping out humanity.” He replied, “It’s not inconceivable. That’s all I’ll say.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has also publicly warned of the risks of AI. He told ’60 Minutes’ last month that society was unprepared for what was to come. At the same time, Google is introducing its own products, such as self-learning robots and Bard, its competitor ChatGPT.

But when asked if “the pace of change can outpace our ability to adapt,” Pichai downplayed the risk. “I don’t think so. We’re sort of an infinitely adaptable species,” he said.

Over the past year, Hinton has reduced his time at Google, according to an internal document seen by CNBC. In March 2022, it increased to 20% full-time. Later that year, he was assigned to a new team within Brain Research. His most recent role was as vice president and engineer, reporting to Jeff Dean at Google Brain.

In an emailed statement to CNBC, Dean said he appreciates Hinton for “his decade of contributions to Google.”

“I will miss him, and I wish him good luck!” Dean wrote. “As one of the first companies to publish Principles of AI, we remain committed to a responsible approach to AI. We are continually learning to understand emerging risks while boldly innovating.”

Hinton’s departure is a high-profile loss for Google Brain, the team behind much of the company’s AI work. Several years ago, Google would have spent $44 million to acquire a company created by Hinton and two of his students in 2012.

His research group has made major breakthroughs in deep learning that have accelerated speech recognition and object classification. Their technology would help create new ways to use AI, including ChatGPT and Bard.

Google brought together teams from across the company to integrate Bard’s technology and LLMs into more products and services. Last month, the company announced that it would merge Brain with DeepMind to “significantly accelerate our progress in AI.”

According to the Times, Hinton said he quit his job at Google so he could speak out about the risks of AI. He told the newspaper: “I console myself with the normal excuse: if I hadn’t done it, someone else would have done it.”

Hinton tweeted Monday, “I left so I could talk about the dangers of AI without considering the impact of that on Google. Google acted very responsibly.”

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