Microsoft’s CSO supports the idea that AI will aid humanity, but still endorses a letter warning of AI’s potential dangers

The chief scientific officer of Microsoft, Eric Horvitz, believes that artificial intelligence (AI) will allow future humans to thrive. However, he seems to be cautious about the potential risks of AI.

On May 30, Horvitz published an article on the official Microsoft blog titled “Reflections on AI and the Future of Human Flourishing,” which discusses the future of AI and announces a series of essays written by AI experts who were given early access to OpenAI’s GPT-4 before its public launch.

According to the blog post, Horvitz was surprised by the capabilities of OpenAI’s GPT-4 when he was given early access in 2022:

“I observed unexpected glimmers of intelligence beyond those seen in prior AI systems. When compared to its predecessor, GPT-3.5 — a model utilized by tens of millions as ChatGPT — I noticed a significant leap in capabilities.”

Horvitz specifically praised GPT-4’s “ability to interpret my intentions and provide sophisticated answers to numerous prompts,” which he said “felt like a ‘phase transition,’ evoking imagery of emergent phenomena that I had encountered in physics.”

Horvitz writes that while testing GPT-4, it became “increasingly evident that the model and its successors […] hold tremendous potential to be transformative.”

Microsoft and OpenAI gave early access to GPT-4 to a large group of experts and solicited essays from them in hopes of identifying the opportunities and challenges the technology poses across numerous industries.

However, on the same day that Horvitz published the announcement post, his name also appeared as a signatory for a document published by the Center for AI Safety.

The document, which contained only a preface and a single-sentence statement, was signed by a list of signatories representing a veritable who’s who of AI experts. The statement reads: “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”

The reception to the document has been somewhat split on social media, with numerous experts expanding on their reasons for signing and others concerned that worrying over undefined risks — such as future AI systems with capabilities that aren’t currently possible — distracts from more important issues.

Horvitz does address the “challenges” involved in developing safe AI in his recent blog post as well as admitting his “anxiety” over the transformative nature of the technology. But there’s no mention of potential extinction.

Outside of AI, Microsoft is exploring other emerging technologies. The company was recently approved for participation in a central bank digital currency pilot project for the central bank of Brazil alongside Santander, Visa, and several other applicants.