Rapid AI proliferation is a threat to democracy, experts say

FILE PHOTO: Illustration shows Artificial Intelligence words

By Anna Tong and Sheila Dang

(Reuters) - The acceleration of artificial intelligence may already be disrupting democratic processes like elections and could even threaten human existence, AI experts warned at the Reuters NEXT conference in New York.

The explosion of generative AI - which can create text, photos and videos in response to open-ended prompts - in recent months has spurred both excitement about its potential as well as fears it could make some jobs obsolete, upend elections and even possibly overpower humans.

“The biggest immediate risk is the threat to democracy…there are a lot of elections around the world in 2024, and the chance that none of them will be swung by deep fakes and things like that is almost zero,” Gary Marcus, a professor at New York University, said in a panel at the Reuters NEXT conference in New York on Wednesday.

One major concern is that generative AI has turbocharged deepfakes - realistic yet fabricated videos created by AI algorithms trained on copious online footage - which surface on social media, blurring fact and fiction in politics.

While such synthetic media has been around for several years, what used to cost millions could now cost $300, Marcus said.

Companies are increasingly using AI to make decisions including about pricing, which could lead to discriminatory outcomes, experts warned at the conference.

Marta Tellado, CEO of the nonprofit Consumer Reports, said an investigation found that car owners who live in neighborhoods with a majority Black or brown population, and in close proximity with a neighborhood of mostly white residents, pay 30% higher car insurance premiums.

"There's no transparency to the consumer in any way," she said during a panel interview.

Another emerging threat that lawmakers and tech leaders must guard against is the possibility of AI becoming so powerful that it becomes a threat to humanity, Anthony Aguirre, founder and executive director of the Future of Life Institute, said in an interview at the conference.

“We should not underestimate how powerful these models are now and how rapidly they are going to get more powerful,” he said.

The Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit aimed at reducing catastrophic risks from advanced artificial intelligence, made headlines in March when it released an open letter calling for a six-month pause on the training of AI systems more powerful than OpenAI's GPT-4. It warned that AI labs have been "locked in an out-of-control race" to develop "powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict, or reliably control."

Developing ever-more powerful AI will also risk eliminating jobs to a point where it may be impossible for humans to simply learn new skills and enter other industries.

“Once that happens, I fear that it's not going to be so easy to go back to AI being a tool and AI as something that empowers people. And it's going to be more something that replaces people.”

To view the live broadcast of the World Stage go to the Reuters NEXT news page: https://www.reuters.com/world/reuters-next/

(Reporting by Anna Tong in San Francisco; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)