OpenAI CEO Sam Altman admits his biggest fear for AI: ‘It can go quite wrong’

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman told a panel of senators Tuesday that his greatest fear as his company develops artificial intelligence capabilities is that is causes major harmful disruption for people, and acknowledged that AI has this potential downside if it isn’t properly regulated.

“My worst fears are that we cause significant – we, the field, the technology industry – cause significant harm to the world,” Altman told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. “I think that could happen in a lot of different ways. It’s why we started the company.”

“It think if this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong and we want to be vocal about that,” he added. “We want to work with the government to prevent that from happening.”

“But we try to be very clear-eyed about what the downside case is and the work that we have to mitigate that,” Altman added.

Altman’s admission, and comments from him and other witnesses about the need for government regulation around AI, prompted Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to note that companies rarely come to Congress to say “please regulate us.”

Subcommittee Chairman Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said one of his specific worries is job loss, and Altman acknowledged that jobs will likely be affected.

“Like with all technological revolutions, I expect there to be significant impact on jobs, but exactly what that impact looks like is very difficult to predict,” he said. But Altman also said he was optimistic on how jobs might evolve around this new technology

“I believe that there will be far greater jobs on the other side of this, and the jobs of today will get better,” he said. “I think it will entirely automate away some jobs, and it will create new ones that we believe will be much better.”

Even here, Altman acknowledged that the government should step in to make sure these changes are managed.

“There will be an impact on jobs. We try to be very clear about that, and I think it will require partnership between the industry and government but mostly action by government to figure out how we want to mitigate that,” he said. “But I’m very optimistic about how great the jobs of the future will be.”

The top Republican on the subcommittee, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he’s worried about how AI might be used to create fake campaign ads in an effort to sway people with false information in the run-up to elections.

Altman agreed that this is a “significant area of concern” and said it would be “quite wise” for the government to pursue regulations in this area.

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