July 19, 2024

This article is from a special report on the Athens Democracy Forum, which gathered experts last week in the Greek capital to discuss global issues.

Moderator: Liz Alderman, chief European business correspondent, The New York Times

Speaker: Nick Clegg, president, global affairs, Meta

Excerpts from the Rethinking A.I. and Democracy discussion have been edited and condensed.

LIZ ALDERMAN A.I. obviously holds enormous promise and can do all kinds of new things. A.I. can even help us possibly solve some of our hardest problems. But it also comes with risks, including manipulation, disinformation and the existential threat of it being used by bad actors. So Nick, why should the public trust that A.I. will be a boon to democracy, rather than a potential threat against it?

NICK CLEGG I think the public should continue to reserve judgment until we see how things play out. And I think, like any major technological innovation, technology can be used for good and for bad purposes, can be used by good and bad people. That’s been the case from the invention of the car to the internet, from the radio to the bicycle. And I think it’s natural to fear the worst, to try and anticipate the worst, and to be fearful particularly of technologies which are difficult to comprehend. So I think it’s not surprising that in recent months, certainly since ChatGPT produced its large language model, a lot of the focus has centered on possible risks. I think some of those risks, or at least the way some of them are being described, are running really quite far ahead of the technology, to be candid. You know, this idea of A.I.’s developing a kind of autonomy and an agency of their own, a sort of demonic wish to destroy humanity and turn us all into paper clips and so on, which was quite a lot of the sort of early discussion.

ALDERMAN We haven’t reached “Terminator 2” status.

CLEGG Yeah, exactly. Because these are systems, remember, which don’t know anything. They don’t have any real meaningful agency or autonomy. They are extremely powerful and sophisticated ways of slicing and dicing vast amounts of data and applying billions of parameters to it to recognize patterns across a dizzying array of data sets and data points.

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