OpenAI Director Shivon Zilis explains why AI requires oversight now

At Google’s second annual Go North conference, much of the focus is on artificial intelligence and its impact on our world. The conference kicked off with a discussion between OpenAI Director Shivon Zilis and AI Fund Director of Ethics and Governance Tim Hwang, and both shared perspective on AI’s progress, its public perception, and how we can help ensure its responsible development going forward.

Zilis opened by noting that there’s a lot of confusion around AI’s perceived rate of progress because “it’s moving both much more slowly and much more quickly than we’d expect, given the hype.” She then listed a number of projects that Google alone has been working on in the last 16 days alone, but also noted that most of these don’t touch our lives because they focus on areas like gaming for now.

When Hwang brought up the fact that artificial intelligence researchers are, in some ways, “basically writing policy in code” because of how influential the particular perspectives or biases inherent in these systems will be, and suggested that researchers could actually consciously set new cultural norms via their work, Zilis added that the total number of people setting the tone for incredibly intelligent AI is probably “in the low thousands.”

She added that this means we likely need more crossover discussion between this community and those making policy decisions, and Hwang added that currently, there’s “no good way for the public at large to signal” what moral choices should be made around the direction of AI development.

Zilis concluded that she has three guiding principles in terms of how she thinks about the future of responsible artificial intelligence development: First, the tech’s coming no matter what, so we need to figure out how to bend its arc with intent. Second, how do we get more people involved in the conversation? And finally, we need to do our best to front load the regulation and public discussion needed on the issue, since ultimately, it’s going to be a very powerful technology.

OpenAI’s entire purpose is overly to help AI development occur transparently and out in the open, but the discussion between these two industry leaders focused specifically on ethical questions really brought to light the tremendous potential that AI has to change the way we live, at a fundamental and also at a macro level.