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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
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California governor holds ‘fireside chat’ about AI

Two leaders in the AI space joined Governor Gavin Newsom at an AI summit Wednesday.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Leaders in artificial intelligence sang the new technology’s praises at a Bay Area summit Wednesday, saying AI has the potential to solve problems and improve people’s lives.

But the back-and-forth between the two AI experts turned dark when Governor Gavin Newsom, moderating the “fireside chat,” asked if AI could mean 2024 will bring the last free and fair election.

“I believe it is possible that this could be our last free and fair election,” said Jennifer Chayes, dean of the UC Berkeley College of Computing, Data Science, and Society.

Fei-Fei Li, co-director of Stanford University’s Institute for Human-Centered AI, agreed that the threat to democracy was real. She said public education is essential if people are to negate that threat, adding that, so far, a poor job has been done with education concerning social media.

Most of Wednesday’s summit, held at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, was dubbed a summit on generative artificial intelligence, or GenAI. It drew leaders from technology, government and academic realms, as well as several lawmakers, to discuss how California can use the technology to better serve people.

Newsom called for the summit in an executive order on GenAI that he issued in September.

An example of GenAI is ChatGPT, a chat bot that can answer questions, as well as write essays and poems.

Li, called a godmother of AI, said AI should augment, not replace, people. She is concerned about its risks but called a human extinction-level crisis more science fiction than reality. She instead pointed to disinformation, bias and privacy issues.

“I think these are much more real problems,” she added.

Chayes said AI can become a democratizer if it’s used to empower everyone and people employ it to solve community problems. Using AI in many communities, as opposed to only a few large companies, means it’ll be tested more often. That will make it safer, though Chayes emphasized a human must always be in that loop.

Lawmakers this year have introduced a swath of bills with AI as their focus. Li pointed to one, saying it would regulate the technology based on a model’s size, with qualifying models having a certain amount of computing power.

Li said she worried that might hurt smaller developers while protecting big tech.

Newsom said the state is a leader in AI, a status he’s unwilling to relinquish.

“I don’t want to cede this space to other states or other countries,” he said.

The governor said he wants California to foster an environment where success in AI is inevitable. That means it must continue to draw people from across the world to its universities and community colleges, which he said thrive in a diverse culture. It’s a strength Newsom said led Elon Musk to take a risk and develop electric vehicles here.

Asked about her concerns as well as optimism about the technology, Li said America’s leadership in the field was her top concern. She added that the public sector, which includes colleges and universities, nonprofits and government, must drive the AI innovation.

Chayes agreed, saying that AI shouldn’t be built on a proprietary framework. Instead it should be open source, meaning anyone can access the source code as it would be free and available to everyone.

Both experts said they knew the world would reach this point in AI. What surprised them was the speed at which it moved. Li noted that in the past she’d only talk to people in Silicon Valley about AI. Now her grandmother talks about it.

The growing tide of AI helped lead Newsom, as well as President Joe Biden, to issue an executive order on the technology last year.

Newsom’s order sought to shape the future of trustworthy, transparent and ethical AI, while keeping the Golden State’s status as the leader in the field.

Biden’s order came about a month after Newsom’s. That order called for safety standards and privacy protections, along with the promotion of innovation and competition.

“This is a special and remarkable space,” Newsom said.

Categories / Government, Science, Technology

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