AI has power to kill ‘many people’, says former Google boss

Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO said - MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS
Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO said - MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS

The former chief executive of Google has warned that artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to harm or kill “many many people” in the near future.

Eric Schmidt said that he was concerned about the “existential risk” of the rapidly evolving technology and warned that it would be difficult to contain.

“My concern with AI is actually existential, and existential risk is defined as many, many, many, many people harmed or killed. And there are scenarios not today but reasonably soon, where these systems will be able to find zero day exploits, cyber issues or discover new kinds of biology,” Mr Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal CEO Council conference in London.

“This is fiction today but the reasoning is likely to be true. And when that happens we want to be ready to know how to make sure these things are not misused by evil people.”

The warning comes as Rishi Sunak prepares to host executives from the world’s top technology labs at Downing Street. The Prime Minister is due to meet Sam Altman, the chief executive of ChatGPT developer OpenAI, alongside Google’s DeepMind and the AI start-up Anthropic, on Wednesday evening.

Discussions are expected to focus on creating an international framework for regulating AI, and responding to the rise of China in the field.

Mr Schmidt, who was Google’s chief executive for a decade from 2001 and then its executive chairman until 2015, has also chaired the US national security commission on AI.

He said it would be extremely difficult to control the spread of AI, which he compared to the rise of nuclear technology.

“Nuclear had the property that there was a scarcity, which was enriched uranium. We are alive today because it was really hard to get that,” said Mr Schmidt.

“This area is different for some reasons. One is that the proliferation problem is very hard to stop, because you can just steal it on a hard drive or a USB stick.”

The former Google chief did not put forward proposals on how AI should be regulated, saying “this is a broader question for society”. However, Mr Schmidt said that the US was unlikely to create a new regulator to tackle the technology.

Mr Altman this week put forward proposals for an international regulator for AI, likening it to the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is understood that Wednesday’s Downing Street meeting will discuss the UK’s potential role in coordinating efforts between countries.