Artificial intelligence – open or closed?

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By MICHAEL ROBERTS*

The development of Artificial intelligence should not be in the hands of “ambitious” entrepreneurs or controlled by big techs

The shocking dismissal of Sam Altman, the founder of OpenAI, by the board of the company he created, reveals the emerging contradictions in the development of this type of technology. The crisis affects ChatGPT, but also other “generative artificial intelligence” ventures, which are driving the current revolution in the field of artificial intelligence.

Will Artificial Intelligence and these language learning models (also called LLM) bring new, wonderful benefits to our lives, reducing working hours and elevating our knowledge to new heights of human effort? Or will generative AI lead to increased domination of humanity by machines, as well as even greater inequality of wealth and income, as the owners and controllers of AI become “winners take all” while the rest of the world humanity is “left behind”?

It appears that the OpenAI board fired its leader “guru” Sam Altman because he had “conflicts of interest”, i.e. Sam Altman wanted to turn OpenAI into a huge money-making operation backed by big companies (Microsoft is the current funder), while the rest of the board continued to view OpenAI as a non-profit operation aiming to spread the benefits of Artificial Intelligence to everyone with appropriate safeguards around privacy, oversight and control.

OpenAI's original goal was to be a non-profit venture created to benefit humanity – not shareholders. But it seems the green carrot of huge profits was driving Sam Altman to change that goal. Even earlier, Sam Altman had built a separate business based on marketing artificial intelligence chips that had made him nouveau riche. Under his direction, OpenAI developed a “for-profit” business arm, allowing the company to attract outside investment and commercialize its services.

Here's what the Financial Times newspaper said: “This hybrid structure has created tensions between the two “tribes” at OpenAI, as Sam Altman called them. The security “tribe,” led by chief scientist and board member Ilya Sutskever, argued that OpenAI must maintain its founding purpose. Its objective would be to develop artificial intelligence mechanisms with the necessary care. The commercial “tribe” seemed dazzled by the possibilities unleashed by ChatGPT's success and wanted to accelerate (i.e. make more and more money). The security tribe seems to have won for now.”

Sam Altman is not a scientist; he appears more like a great man of ideas, an entrepreneur in the tradition of Bill Gates (with Microsoft). Under Sam Altman, OpenAI was transformed in eight years from a nonprofit research company into a company capable of generating about $1 billion in revenue per year. Clients range from Morgan Stanley to Estée Lauder, Carlyle and PwC.

The success made Sam Altman the de facto ambassador of the Artificial Intelligence industry, despite his lack of scientific training. Earlier this year, he embarked on a global tour, meeting with world leaders, startups and regulators in several countries. Sam Altman even spoke at the APEC Asia-Pacific regional summit in San Francisco just one day before he was fired.

Sam Altman apparently has “a fierce ambition and an ability to rally support.” He has been described as “deeply, deeply competitive.” He appears to be a mastermind” – a guy who has a privileged mind geared – someone who knows him well predicted – to accumulating power better than anyone else. As a result, he has been “worshipped” by his company’s 700 employees. In light of the episode, the majority of this group signed a letter demanding their reinstatement, as well as the resignation of the representatives of the security “tribe” on the company's board. 

OpenAI spent half a billion dollars developing ChatGPT. It was about to launch an $86 billion share sale before the board split into two “tribes.” This operation would have allowed the non-profit approach to continue. Now, with Sam Altman and others associated with him joining Microsoft as its employees, it looks like OpenAI could be swallowed up by this giant firm for a pittance. Thus, the presupposed mission of creating a “non-profit” company would come to an end.

What all this shows is that an illusion is turning into a delusion. Whatever it is, the fantasy that the revolution in artificial intelligence and information technology will be developed by capitalist companies for the benefit of all. Profit comes first, second and even last – whatever, in fact, the impact on security and jobs that artificial intelligence technology may have for humanity in the coming decades.

Some fear that Artificial Intelligence will become “God-like”, that is, a superintelligence that will develop autonomously, without human supervision and, eventually, control humanity. So far, artificial intelligence and language learning algorithms (AI and LLM in their English acronyms) do not exhibit this “superintelligence”. As I have argued in other articles, these technologies cannot replace the imaginative power of human thought. But they can greatly increase productivity, decrease work hours and develop new and better ways of solving problems if put to social use.

What is clear is that the development of Artificial Intelligence should not be in the hands of “ambitious” entrepreneurs like Sam Altman or controlled by technology giants like Microsoft. What is needed now is the creation of an international, non-commercial research institute similar to CERN in nuclear physics. If anything requires public ownership and democratic control in the XNUMXst century, it is above all AI, that is, machine intelligence. Behold, it can replace markets and, thus, the suppression of the machine par excellence of capital.

*Michael Roberts is an economist. Author, among other books, of The great recession: a marxist view (Lulu Press). [https://amzn.to/3ZUjFFj]

Translation: Eleutério FS Prado.

Originally published in The next recession blog.


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