Palantir ethics expert warns of AI's global presence and power

John Grant, a civil liberties engineer at Palantir, has likened the emergence of widely-available advanced AI to the atomic bomb, expressing concerns over the powerful technology's use. Speaking at the Reagan Institute Summit on Education, Grant said AI is a nuclear bomb, and the entire world already has it. He added that he's not sure if society is ready to handle it and that people need to take responsibility for how they use it. Grant reminded the audience of a Twitter engineer who invented the retweet button, famously saying, "We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon."

Grant is responsible for educating Palantir employees on AI ethics and teaches his colleagues to identify the ethical issues with technology and how to draw boundaries to take responsibility for the effect they could have on society. He believes that the same things should be taught to kids in school, so those who are developing new technologies understand they have the power to control how it is used.

One of the driving impetuses for Grant starting the education program at Palantir was a quote he read from Frank Oppenheimer, the brother of Robert Oppenheimer, who is credited with being the father of the atomic bomb. Both men worked on the Manhattan Project. Frank Oppenheimer was asked later in life how he felt about having worked on a genocidal weapon, and he replied something to the effect of, "Somehow we never thought it would be used on people."

Grant stated that engineers and computer scientists sometimes develop dangerous tunnel vision where they say, "Hey, I’m going to build this thing, and it's going to work, it's going to be cool." He emphasized the importance of imbuing responsibility in these students for what they're building and the effect on the world. Engineers must consider how their work can affect the world and how to mitigate the negative impacts.


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