Opinion Technology
June 30, 2023

67% in Favor of Existential Threat: Results from Munk Debate on AI

In Brief

The Planetary Referendum on the fate of mankind has sparked debates on AI risks, with experts and authorities expressing differing opinions on the matter.

The ChatGPT revolution has accelerated the timeline for humanoid AI, leading to a shift from hypothetical discussions to practical considerations of existential AI risks.

This discord has led to conflicting approaches among authorities in developed countries, resulting in hesitations and contradictions in their actions.

Public opinion may play a decisive role in addressing AI risks, acting as a butterfly whose weight can tilt the balance of opinions.

A rehearsal of the planetary referendum on the fate of mankind has recently taken place, shedding light on the opinions and concerns surrounding AI risks. The ChatGPT revolution has accelerated the timeline for the creation of humanoid AI (AGI), causing a shift from hypothetical discussions to practical considerations of existential AI risks.

Results from Munk Debate on AI are in: 67% in Favor of Existential Threat
Credit: Munk Debate on Artificial Intelligence | Bengio & Tegmark vs. Mitchell & LeCun

Similar to other existential risks such as nuclear, climate, and biological hazards, opinions among specialists and experts regarding AI risk assessment are divided. On one hand, some experts emphasize the significant existential AI risks and call for urgent attention and action. On the other hand, there are those who argue that these risks have yet to materialize and should only be addressed if and when they do.

The divergence of professional opinions has led to conflicting approaches among authorities in developed countries. This discord has resulted in hesitations and contradictions in their actions concerning AI development. The specialists and authorities find themselves in a situation analogous to Buridan’s donkey, where the chances of making a choice between opposing alternatives are just as likely as the chance of demise. Implementing a “donkey strategy” that slows down AI development is considered the worst possible approach as it hinders technological progress without effectively mitigating or reducing AI risks.

Society is now in a disheartening predicament, torn apart by conflicting opinions from specialists and authorities. In addressing the issue of AI risks, public opinion may play a decisive role, acting as a butterfly whose weight can tilt the balanced bar of opinions to one side.

The results of the first rehearsal of the planetary referendum have been revealed during The Munk Debate on Artificial Intelligence. The debaters, Joshua Bengio and Max Tegmark representing the “Yes” position, and Melanie Mitchell and Jan LeKun representing the “No” position, deliberated on the question: “Does AI research and development pose an existential threat?” Prior to the debate, a pre-debate survey indicated that 67% of viewers were inclined to agree with the notion of an existential threat, while 33% disagreed. Following the debates, the distribution shifted slightly, with 64% in favor of the existential threat and 36% opposed (with 3% changing their stance from “Yes” to “No”).

Notably, a prediction market opened two weeks prior to the debate suggested that Jan LeKun would emerge victorious with the “No” position. However, over time, sentiment shifted, and by the end of the debate, only 25% of market participants maintained confidence in that outcome.

While it remains to be seen whether this butterfly effect will tilt the scale of opinions regarding the fate of humanity in the context of AI development, it is unlikely to have a significant impact. The true catalyst for a shift in opinions might come in the form of a catastrophic global incident, such as a mental virus pandemic, which carries non-negligible chances of occurring either by the end of this year (following the planned release of GPT 5) or in the first half of 2024 (following the planned release of GPT 6).

As the debate continues, the future implications of AI development and its inherent risks remain uncertain. The discussions surrounding AI’s potential impact on humanity persist, and only time will reveal the true extent of these concerns.

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About The Author

Damir is the team leader, product manager, and editor at Metaverse Post, covering topics such as AI/ML, AGI, LLMs, Metaverse, and Web3-related fields. His articles attract a massive audience of over a million users every month. He appears to be an expert with 10 years of experience in SEO and digital marketing. Damir has been mentioned in Mashable, Wired, Cointelegraph, The New Yorker, Inside.com, Entrepreneur, BeInCrypto, and other publications. He travels between the UAE, Turkey, Russia, and the CIS as a digital nomad. Damir earned a bachelor's degree in physics, which he believes has given him the critical thinking skills needed to be successful in the ever-changing landscape of the internet. 

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Damir Yalalov
Damir Yalalov

Damir is the team leader, product manager, and editor at Metaverse Post, covering topics such as AI/ML, AGI, LLMs, Metaverse, and Web3-related fields. His articles attract a massive audience of over a million users every month. He appears to be an expert with 10 years of experience in SEO and digital marketing. Damir has been mentioned in Mashable, Wired, Cointelegraph, The New Yorker, Inside.com, Entrepreneur, BeInCrypto, and other publications. He travels between the UAE, Turkey, Russia, and the CIS as a digital nomad. Damir earned a bachelor's degree in physics, which he believes has given him the critical thinking skills needed to be successful in the ever-changing landscape of the internet. 

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