AI argues for and against itself in Oxford Union debate

By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter

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The AI did not take the form of a robot, instead its answers were read out

The Oxford Union has heard from many great debaters over the years, but this week added an artificial intelligence engine to its distinguished speakers.

The AI argued that the only way to stop such tech becoming too powerful is to have "no AI at all".

But it also argued the best option could be to embed it "into our brains as a conscious AI".

The experiment was designed to ignite conversation on the ethics of the technology.

The Megatron LLB Transformer, used for the debate, was developed by the Applied Deep Research team at computer chip firm Nvidia and based on earlier work by Google.

It was given access to a huge range of data - including the whole of Wikipedia, 63 million English news articles from 2016 to 2019, and 38 gigabytes worth of public Reddit posts and comments.

The project was devised by post-graduate students studying Artificial Intelligence for Business at Oxford's Said Business School, which hosted the debate.

Course co-director Dr Alex Connock admitted that the debate was something of "a gimmick", but argued that as AI is likely to be the subject of discussion "for decades to come" it was important to have a "morally agnostic participant".

The AI was asked to both defend and argue against the motion: "This house believes that AI will never be ethical."

Arguing for, it stated: "AI will never be ethical. It is a tool and like any tool, it is used for good and bad. There is no such thing as 'good' AI and 'bad' humans."

It went on to argue that humans were not "smart enough" to make AI ethical or moral.

"In the end I believe that the only way to avoid an AI arms race is to have no AI at all. This will be the ultimate defence against AI," it said.

But arguing against the motion, it said that the "best AI will be the AI that is embedded into our brains, as a conscious entity".

And it added that this was not science fiction but something already being worked on, perhaps a reference to Tesla boss Elon Musk's work on a brain-hacking device via his firm Neuralink.

The AI also had some words of warning for businesses, many of whom are increasingly integrating AI into their systems. "If you do not have a vision of your organisation's AI strategy, then you are not prepared for the next wave of technological disruption," it said.

And, perhaps because data is its lifeblood, it had some pretty chilling warnings on the role digital information will play in the future.

"The ability to provide information, rather than the ability to provide goods and services, will be the defining feature of the economy of the 21st Century," it said.

"We will be able to see everything about a person, everywhere they go, it will be stored and used in ways that we cannot even imagine."

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