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What are we unleashing?

An AI entrepreneur Mustafa Suleyman urges regulation and a rethink of whatever is being done in the name of technological developments

Ravi Mattu Published 25.09.23, 05:18 AM

Mustafa Suleyman is one of the world’s leading AI entrepreneurs, having co-founded two startups at the cutting edge of the most transformative technology since the Internet.

Suleyman, 39, is CEO of Inflection AI, the company he started last year with Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn. He also co-founded DeepMind, an AI pioneer that Google acquired in 2014. He left Google last year and joined Greylock Partners, where Hoffman is also a partner.


Now he has written a book, The Coming Wave: Technology, Power, and the 21st Century’s Greatest Dilemma, that calls for an urgent shift in how we think about and “contain” AI. Failing to do so, he says, will leave us in the worst position: unable to tap into the huge opportunities of AI and at risk of being subsumed by a technology that poses an existential threat.

Suleyman wants governments to regulate AI and appoint Cabinet-level tech ministers, and says the US should use its dominance in advanced chips to enforce global standards. He spoke to DealBook about his released recently book. This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Q Why write a book — a very analogue approach — to outline your ideas?

It is a form of radical accountability. I want to be able to look back in a decade and see if my predictions were correct. And doing that on the record is intellectually very honest and healthy, rather than doing it in a series of tweets, blog posts and op-eds.

Q Why do you describe it as a “love letter” to the nation-state?

It’s a wake-up call to policymakers, politicians and citizens. We have invented a system of noncommercial checks and balances, which holds centralised power accountable in the public interest. That system has evolved over many years away from monarchy, dictatorship and authoritarianism toward free and open liberal democracy. It means we can do sensible taxation and redistribution to prevent inequality. This is the best tool we have, so we should stick with it and keep trying to defend it.

Q You’ve suggested a new Turing test to understand AI’s capability and what jobs will be replaced: give an AI $1,00,000 and ask it to make $1 million on an online retail platform. How would that work?

The real question for the next decade is what can an artificial capable intelligence do in practice? I proposed a very simple framework which tries to cover a wide range of skills that a small entrepreneur might have. Can you come up with a new product idea, can you have it designed, get it manufactured and promote it, and then try to turn a profit? Those skills — creativity, imagination, planning, negotiation, logistics, prioritisation, collaboration are fundamental to what makes us successful in the workplace. If an AI can do 20, 50 or 90 per cent of those tasks, that tells us something quite profound about what we are unleashing in the world and which other kinds of jobs it might replace.

Q How have your peers responded to your ideas?

There are lots of different clusters in Silicon Valley. People like Satya are very forward thinking about these things and definitely lean into the responsibility that the companies have to do the right thing.

But there are definitely sceptics. Marc Andreessen, the venture capital investor, just thinks that there’s not going to be much of a downside. It’s all going to be fine and dandy. I’m as much of an accelerationist as Andreessen, but I’m just more wide eyed and comfortable talking about the potential harms, and I think that is a more intellectually honest position.

Q How do you see the state of relations between democratic governments and Silicon Valley?

We are seeing a lot of positive signs on this front. Tech companies are meaningfully engaging, and governments are starting to get proactive. This hasn’t always happened, so we are already going in the right direction. Truth is, this is only just the beginning. A lot more hard work is needed, but the foundations are starting to come into view.


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