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Self-aware AI threatens humanity

From deepfakes to the creation of art and music, the abilities of artificial intelligence go far beyond the technology’s original intentions.

Made to replicate human intelligence, the computer-based technology was designed to perform tasks, solve problems and achieve goals that initially required human interaction. As AI advances, however, scientists fear that AI could one day act independently of human guidance and input, thereby posing an existential threat to humanity. 

This image was created using AI. ChatGPT, Runway and Deepart are three of the most popular online generative AI applications. Technologists and philosophers alike are worried AI could eventually pose an existential threat to humankind. (Illustration by Runway)

Renowned computer scientist, Geoffrey Hinton, became known as the godfather of AI for his work on algorithms in artificial networks. After spending his career building AI systems, Hinton quit his job at Google in May 2023 and began warning the public about the dangers of a conscious AI. 

“There’s a serious danger that we’ll get [AI systems] smarter than us fairly soon and that these things might get bad motives and take control,” Hinton said in a 2023 NPR interview. 

As of today, there has not been a computer system that is consciously aware of its own abilities, but the rapid progression of AI technology raises questions about whether future AI will be able to think for itself. Furthermore, if an artificial system can create unique thoughts, will those thoughts be loyal to humanity or turn against it? 

In a 2022 article titled “Will AI ever be conscious?”, Tom McClelland, a lecturer of philosophy and an academic research associate at Cambridge University, stated that all scientists should exercise caution in this field. “Even if we have doubts about whether computer systems experience anything, we should act on the assumption that any sophisticated AI is sentient,” McClelland said.

In addition to the dangers of a self-aware AI system, other risks associated with AI include privacy violations, job displacement and the possibility of receiving corrupt data or misinformation. AI is already being used to intentionally release false information and commit crimes like identity theft and financial fraud.

While still acknowledging the transformative advances of this technology, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk, publicly said that AI can “pose profound risks to society and humanity.”

“We will have, for the first time, something that is smarter than the smartest human,” Musk said. “There will come a point where no job is needed. You could have a job if you wanted to have a job, for personal satisfaction, but the AI will be able to do everything.” 

Creating unique art, impersonating someone’s face and voice, and becoming a master of a variety of subjects are only a few of the skills that AI presents today. As AI continuously advances and improves itself, future possibilities and potential for good are endless, as well as the potential to inflict harm. 

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