Project SyndicateProject Syndicate

FrankenTech

By Robert Skidelsky

20 Apr 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

Robert Skidelsky's intriguing PS piece discusses the sudden panic caused by generative AI among tech leaders and questions whether their calls for a pause are genuine or merely self-serving.

LONDON – In Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, scientist Victor Frankenstein famously uses dead body parts to create a hyperintelligent “superhuman” monster that – driven mad by human cruelty and isolation – ultimately turns on its creator. Since its publication in 1818, Shelley’s story of scientific research gone wrong has come to be seen as a metaphor for the danger (and folly) of trying to endow machines with human-like intelligence.

Shelley’s tale has taken on new resonance with the rapid emergence of generative artificial intelligence. On March 22, the Future of Life Institute issued an open letter signed by hundreds of tech leaders, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, calling for a six-month pause (or a government-imposed moratorium) in developing AI systems more powerful than OpenAI’s newly released ChatGPT-4. “AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity,” says the letter, which currently has more than 25,000 signatories. The authors go on to warn of the “out-of-control” race “to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict, or reliably control.”

Sign in to informed

  • Curated articles from premium publishers, ad-free
  • Concise Daily Briefs with quick-read summaries
  • Read, listen, save for later, or enjoy offline
  • Enjoy personalized content