Open Letter Season: Large Language Models and the Perils of AI

by Fabio Tollon and Ann-Katrien Oimann

DALL·E 2 generated image

Getting a handle on the impacts of Large Language Models (LLMs) such as GPT-4 is difficult.  These LLMs have raised a variety of ethical and regulatory concerns: problems of bias in the data set, privacy concerns for the data that is trawled in order to create and train the model in the first place, the resources used to train the models, etc. These are well-worn issues, and have been discussed at great length, both by critics of these models and by those who have been developing them.

What makes the task of figuring out the impacts of these systems even more difficult is the hype that surrounds them. It is often difficult to sort fact from fiction, and if we don’t have a good idea of what these systems can and can’t do, then it becomes almost impossible to figure out how to use them responsibly. Importantly, in order to craft proper legislation at both national and international levels we need to be clear about the future harm these systems might cause and ground these harms in the actual potential that these systems have.

In the last few days this discourse has taken an interesting turn. The Future of Life Institute (FLI) published an open letter (which has been signed by thousands of people, including eminent AI researchers) calling for a 6-month moratorium on “Giant AI Experiments”. Specifically, the letter calls for “all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4”. Quite the suggestion, given the rapid progress of these systems.

A few days after the FLI letter, another Open Letter was published, this time by researchers in Belgium (Nathalie A. Smuha, Mieke De Ketelaere, Mark Coeckelbergh, Pierre Dewitte and Yves Poullet). In the Belgian letter, the authors call for greater attention to the risk of emotional manipulation that chatbots, such as GPT-4, present (here they reference the tragic chatbot-incited suicide of a Belgian man). In the letter the authors outline some specific harms these systems bring about, advocate for more educational initiatives (including awareness campaigns to better inform people of the risks), a broader public debate, and urgent stronger legislative actions. Read more »