4 CEOs’ apocalyptic warnings about the power of A.I. signal the need for action

April 24, 2023, 4:11 AM UTC
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at a panel at the CEO Summit of the Americas hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on June 9, 2022 in Los Angeles, Calif.
Anna Moneymaker—Getty Images

Good morning.

It’s hard not to be struck by the dire language used by those who best know the power of generative A.I. Creators of previous generations of technology have introduced their tools with idealistic rhetoric. Google was going to organize all the world’s information, with a motto of “Don’t be evil.” Facebook was credited with sparking the Arab Spring. Web3 is going to allow people to take back control of the Internet. But generative A.I. has been birthed with a blizzard of apocalyptic admonitions. Open A.I. CEO Sam Altman said the worst case is “lights out for all of us.” Google CEO Sundar Pichai highlighted the unsolved problem of “hallucinations” and the mismatch between the pace at which people can adapt and “the pace at which technology is evolving.” C3.ai CEO Tom Siebel, who works closely with the U.S. defense establishment, repeatedly used the word “terrifying” to describe the technology in a recent conversation with me. Elon Musk, no technophobe, says it could lead to “civilization destruction.”

Some see this as welcome candor that acknowledges that this latest wave of technology, like previous waves, carries the potential to do both great good and great evil. Better to acknowledge that up front, they argue, so we can begin to grapple with the consequences. As hedge fund founder Ray Dalio puts it: “I worry so I don’t have to worry.” 

But the alternative possibility is that creators of this technology are talking about its “terrifying” nature because it is, in fact, terrifying. The genie can’t be put back in the bottle. Given the unprecedented speed of adoption, it’s already past time to start seriously dealing with the potential consequences.

By the way, do we need a new word or phrase to describe the existential dread evoked by new technologies? We are open to your suggestions. Turns out, Fortune has had a pretty good record of coining iconic phrases over our 93-year history, as the seven examples here show.

More news below.

Alan Murray



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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Jackson Fordyce. 

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