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Yoshua Bengio, a Grand Master of Modern AI, is Worried About Its Future

Yoshua Bengio is a grand master of modern artificial intelligence. Alongside Geoff Hinton and Yan LeCun, Bengio is famous for championing a technique known as deep learning that in recent years has gone from an academic curiosity to one of the most powerful technologies on the planet. Here’s an excerpt from an interview he gave to MIT Technology Review: MIT TR: What do you make of the idea that there’s an AI race between different countries?
Bengio: I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s the right way to do it. We could collectively participate in a race, but as a scientist and somebody who wants to think about the common good, I think we’re better off thinking about how to both build smarter machines and make sure AI is used for the well-being of as many people as possible.

MIT TR: Are you worried about just a few AI companies, in the West and perhaps China, dominating the field of AI?
Bengio: Yes, it’s another reason why we need to have more democracy in AI research. It’s that AI research by itself will tend to lead to concentrations of power, money, and researchers. The best students want to go to the best companies. They have much more money, they have much more data. And this is not healthy. Even in a democracy, it’s dangerous to have too much power concentrated in a few hands.

MIT TR:There has been a lot of controversy over military uses of AI. Where do you stand on that?
Bengio: I stand very firmly against.
MIT TR: Even non-lethal uses of AI?
Bengio: Well, I don’t want to prevent that. I think we need to make it immoral to have killer robots. We need to change the culture, and that includes changing laws and treaties. That can go a long way. Of course, you’ll never completely prevent it, and people say, “Some rogue country will develop these things.” My answer is that one, we want to make them feel guilty for doing it, and two, there’s nothing to stop us from building defensive technology. There’s a big difference between defensive weapons that will kill off drones, and offensive weapons that are targeting humans. Both can use AI.
MIT TR: Shouldn’t AI experts work with the military to ensure this happens?
Bengio: If they had the right moral values, fine. But I don’t completely trust military organizations, because they tend to put duty before morality. I wish it was different.

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