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‘Bad actors’ will exploit AI to cause ‘real damage’ to society, Microsoft chief economist says

Advanced artificial intelligence will likely be exploited by “bad actors” to wreak havoc in the US and other countries, according to a stark warning from Microsoft’s top economist on Wednesday.

Michael Schwarz joined a growing chorus of experts, including Elon Musk and the “Godfather of AI” Dr. Geoffrey Hinton, who have recently raised alarms about a potential dark side to the quickly-evolving technology — even as his own firm is the driving force behind the wildly popular Open AI tool, ChatGPT.

“I am quite confident that, yes, AI will be used by bad actors, and yes, it will cause real damage and yes, we need to be very careful and very vigilant to avoid that by all means possible,” Schwarz said during a World Economic Forum event in Geneva.

“Breaking is much easier than building,” Schwarz added. “Before AI could take all your jobs, it could certainly do a lot of damage in the hands of spammers, people who want to manipulate elections and so on.”

Scrutiny of AI has mounted since the release of Microsoft-backed ChatGPT.

The chatbot has wowed the public with its lifelike responses to user prompts despite warnings that it is prone to sharing misinformation.

Microsoft’s Big Tech rivals including Google, Meta and even Musk have raced to roll out their own versions of AI, leading to fears of a massive upheaval of the job market.

Michael Schwarz is Microsoft’s chief economist.

On Tuesday, IBM announced that it will pause filling nearly 8,000 positions because the roles can be performed by AI.

But Schwarz downplayed concerns that the rise of AI would cause massive job losses.

“I think people who worry about AI taking away jobs are paranoid,” he said, according to Bloomberg. “I don’t think people should be worried too much about it. It’s a good thing when AI makes us more productive. I think we should be worrying a lot more about AI being used by bad actors to cause damage.”

Schwarz added that AI “clearly” must be regulated — but urged lawmakers to take a deliberate approach to avoid erasing its potential benefits to society.

Michael Schwarz
Michael Schwarz called for guardrails to be put in place as AI advances.

“Once we see real harm, we have to ask ourselves the simple question: ‘Can we regulate that in a way where the good things that will be prevented by this regulation are less important?’” Schwarz said. “The principles should be, the benefits from the regulation to our society should be greater than the cost to our society.” 

Vice President Kamala Harris is slated to meet with the CEOs of Microsoft, OpenAI and Google parent Alphabet on Thursday to discuss potential safeguards for the AI industry.

The Biden administration wants the meeting to be “a frank discussion of the risks we each see in current and near-term AI development, actions to mitigate those risks, and other ways we can work together to ensure the American people benefit from advances in AI while being protected from its harms,” according to an invitation obtained by Bloomberg.

ChatGPT and other AI services have come under under scrutiny.
AFP via Getty Images

In March, Musk joined with more than 1,000 other experts in signing an open letter which called for a six-month pause in the development of advanced AI systems.

The experts argued that a pause would allow industry leaders to collaborate on safety guidelines.

Meanwhile, Hinton, a renowned computer scientist credited with laying the AI groundwork that fueled the creation of ChatGPT and other products, recently quit his part-time role at Google and said he regrets his life’s work due to its potential to cause damage.

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