On Tuesday, the US Senate held a hearing on AI. The hearing involved 3 witnesses: Sam Altman, Gary Marcus, and Christina Montgomery. (If you want to watch the hearing, you can watch it here – it's around 3 hours.)
I watched the hearing and wound up live-tweeting quotes that stood out to me, as well as some reactions. I'm copying over quotes to this post that I think might be of interest to others here. Note this was a very impromptu process and I wasn't originally planning on writing a forum post when I was jotting down quotes, so I've presumably missed a bunch of quotes that would be of interest to many here. Without further ado, here are the quotes (organized chronologically):
Senator Blumenthal (D-CT): "I think you [Sam Altman] have said, in fact, and I'm gonna quote, 'Development of superhuman machine intelligence is probably the greatest threat to the continued existence of humanity.' You may have had in mind the effect on jobs, which is really my biggest nightmare in the long run..."
Sam Altman: [doesn't correct the misunderstanding of the quote and instead proceeds to talk about possible effects of AI on employment]
Sam Altman: "My worst fears are that... we, the field, the technology, the industry, cause significant harm to the world. I think that could happen in a lot of different ways; it's why we started the company... I think if this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong, and we want to be vocal about that. We want to work with the government to prevent that from happening, but we try to be very clear eyed about what the downside case is and the work that we have to do to mitigate that."
Sam Altman: "I think the US should lead [on AI regulation], but to be effective, we do need something global... There is precedent – I know it sounds naive to call for something like this... we've done it before with the IAEA... Given what it takes to make these models, the chip supply chain, the sort of limited number of competitive GPUs, the power the US has over these companies, I think there are paths to the US setting some international standards that other countries would need to collaborate with and be part of, that are actually workable, even though it sounds on its face like an impractical idea. And I think it would be great for the world."
Senator Coons (D-DE): "I understand one way to prevent generative AI models from providing harmful content is to have humans identify that content and then train the algorithm to avoid it. There's another approach that's called 'constitutional AI' that gives the model a set of values or principles to guide its decision making. Would it be more effective to give models these kinds of rules instead of trying to require or compel training the model on all the different potentials for harmful content? ... I'm interested also, what international bodies are best positioned to convene multilateral discussions to promote responsible standards? We've talked about a model being CERN and nuclear energy. I'm concerned about proliferation and nonproliferation."
Senator Kennedy (R-LA): "Permit me to share with you three hypotheses that I would like you to assume for the moment to be true... Hypothesis number 3... there is likely a berserk wing of the artificial intelligence community that intentionally or unintentionally could use artificial intelligence to kill all of us and hurt us the entire time that we are dying... Please tell me in plain English two or three reforms, regulations, if any, that you would implement if you were queen or king for a day..."
Gary Marcus: "Number 1: a safety-review like we use with the FDA prior to widespread deployment... Number 2: a nimble monitoring agency to follow what's going on... with authority to call things back... Number 3... funding geared towards things like AI Constitution... I would not leave things entirely to current technology, which I think is poor at behaving in ethical fashion and behaving in honest fashion. And so I would have funding to... basically focus on AI safety research... there's both... short term & long term and I think we need to look at both rather than just funding models to be bigger... we need to fund models to be more trustworthy."
Sam Altman: "Number 1, I would form a new agency that licenses any effort above a certain scale of capabilities and can take that license away and ensure compliance with safety standards. Number 2, I would create a set of safety standards focused on what you said in your third hypothesis as the dangerous capability evaluations. One example that we've used in the past is looking to see if a model can self-replicate and self-exfiltrate into the wild. We can give your office a long other list on the things that we think are important there, but specific tests that a model has to pass before it can be deployed into the world. And then third I would require independent audits..."
Senator Kennedy (R-LA): "Can you send me that information?"
Sam Altman: "We will do that..."
Senator Kennedy (R-LA): "Are there people out there that would be qualified [to administer the rules if they were implemented]?"
Sam Altman: "We would be happy to send you recommendations for people out there."
Sam Altman: "Where I think the licensing scheme comes in is not for what these models are capable of today... but... as we head towards artificial general intelligence... the power of that technology... that's where I personally think we need such a scheme."
Senator Hirono (D-HI): "I agree, and that is why, by the time we're talking about AGI, we're talking about major harms that can occur... We can't just come up with something that is gonna' take care of the issues that will arise in the future, especially with AGI."
Sam Altman: "[AGI] may take a long time, I'm not sure"
Gary Marcus: "There are more genies yet to come from more bottles; some genies are already out, but we don't have machines that can really, for example, self-improve themselves, we don't really have machines that have self-awareness, and we might not ever want to go there."
Sam Altman (remember, the hearing is under oath): "We are not currently training what will be GPT-5; we don't have plans to do it in the next 6 months."
Specifically, the hearing was held by the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law (within the Senate Judiciary Committee), with the title, "Oversight of A.I.: Rules for Artificial Intelligence."
Gary is a noted critic of current Deep Learning approaches, both for their limitations (he thinks DL will be/is hitting a wall) and for their risks (for instance, due to dangerous advice from hallucinations and their ability to produce misinformation).
Christina is the Chief Privacy & Trust Officer of IBM.
If you want to check out my tweets, you can go to my Twitter profile, though note you'll have to scroll down as I didn't organize these tweets into a thread.
Thanks for pulling out these quotes, I found this useful!
Interesting, the hearing was much more directly focused on core AI Safety issues than I expected. I find myself continuing to get more optimistic about some dynamics like whether AI Safety discussions are happening in serious venues, but continue to be uncertain about some dynamics like open source / decentralized systems and fast takeoff scenarios.
FWIW, the parts I quoted were much more focused on that than the parts I didn't quote – it's not like the hearing as a whole was this focused on core issues.
Fair point! Even seeing these things mentioned at this level from the execs and some senators seemed like a positive step to me.
Interesting that Sam Altman said "We are not currently training what will be GPT-5". I've certainly heard rumours to the contrary.
Maybe they're training "GPT-4.5", maybe they've come up with a new name and they're training "Assistant-1"
But he's said elsewhere publicly that they're not training GPT-5
Maybe they're going to focus on plugins, fine-tuning, visual processing, etc.
Could you share more details about the rumors?
Someone told me that they had heard that OpenAI was training GPT-5.
The someone was the sort of person who would likely be in the know (but was not at OpenAI).
I'd prefer not to say more, because I don't know whether they are willing to have their identity stated in public.