On the Movie
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has some breaking news for us: at long last, he's watched the 2015 sci-fi thriller "Ex Machina" — a movie you'd think would be required viewing for a guy who explicitly says he's working on artificial general intelligence.
"Finally watched Ex Machina last night," Altman tweeted. "Pretty good movie but I can't figure out why everyone told me to watch it."
Clearly, or well, hopefully — you can never be too sure — Altman is just being facetious about that last bit, since it should be pretty clear why his followers asked him to check it out.
The Alex Garland-directed film tells the story of a computer programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) who wins the chance to visit the estate of his employer's reclusive tech CEO (Oscar Isaac). When he arrives, the CEO asks him to determine if his autonomous, humanoid robot's AI (Alicia Vikander) is truly conscious by administering a Turing test of sorts during his stay.
Complications ensue, and it becomes unclear how dangerous the AI might be, and who's testing who. Sound like it might be relevant to Altman's line of work?
Lessons to be Learned
Altman could stand to adhere some of the movie's well-trod cautions on AI, as real life already seems to be reflecting fiction. Earlier this year, one man allegedly died by suicide after extensively talking to an AI chatbot. Do we have to mention how easily AI could be used manipulate us through the misinformation it effortlessly generates?
A self-admitted doomsday prepper for a world-ending AI scenario, Altman is also one of the foremost purveyors of the technology, with OpenAI's ChatGPT being a massive cultural sensation, not to mention an institution-shaking tool for students too lazy to write papers and employers too cheap to pay human writers.
ChatGPT and the advent of other generative AI like the image generators Stable Diffusion are why many feel we are already living in the unfortunate world of some pulp sci-fi paperback too absurd to ever be realized. The irony that Altman would sign an open letter warning of humanity's "risk of extinction" from AI is practically palpable, considering that it was under his leadership that OpenAI went from philanthropic, humanity-first nonprofit to taking billions of dollars from Microsoft.
So some cognitive dissonance isn't out of order for the CEO, and Altman doesn't show any signs of ending his plays at both sides. Recently, Altman has both called for more regulation and whined about too much regulation in the same month.
Anyway, there's plenty to be learned from classic, cautionary sci-fi tales, though as the internet "Torment Nexus" adage warns us, you really can't trust tech companies to take away the right lessons from sci-fi media.