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Senate warned of perfect storm leading to emerging AI disaster

Senators on Tuesday got the green light to impose significant federal regulation on artificial intelligence systems, not just from two industry giants, but from an AI expert who warned that the fate of the nation may depend on tough AI rules from Congress.

A Senate Judiciary subcommittee heard from OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and IBM Chief Privacy & Trust Officer Christina Montgomery, who both invited federal oversight of AI even though they split on whether a new federal agency is needed. In between those witnesses sat Gary Marcus, the New York University professor emeritus and leader of Uber’s AI labs from 2016 to 2017, who issued a stark warning that human life is about to be upended by this unpredictable technology.

“They can and will create persuasive lies at a scale humanity has never seen before,” Marcus warned of generative AI systems. “Outsiders will use them to affect our elections, insiders to manipulate our markets and our political systems. Democracy itself is threatened.”

“A law professor, for example, was accused by a chatbot of sexual harassment. Untrue,” Marcus said. “And it pointed to a Washington Post article that didn’t even exist. The more that that happens, the more than anybody can deny anything.”

“As one prominent lawyer told me on Friday, defendants are starting to claim that plaintiffs are making up legitimate evidence,” he said. “These sorts of allegations undermine the abilities of juries to decide what or who to believe and contribute to the undermining of democracy.”

In an era in which Washington, D.C., is worried more and more about suicide and deteriorating mental health, Marcus said AI is making the problem worse.

“An open-source large language model recently seems to have played a role in a person’s decision to take their own life,” he said. “The large language model asked the human, ‘If you wanted to die, why didn’t you do it earlier?’ then followed up with, ‘Were you thinking of me when you overdosed?’ without ever referring the patient to the human help that was obviously needed.”

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