Andrew Forrest says the world is “sleepwalking into tragedy” if humankind does not plan for the potential negative impact of artificial intelligence.
Mr Forrest told The West Australian he believed AI would surpass nuclear weapons to probably be the most powerful technology ever created.
While it has the potential to be a force for good, he said ethical guidelines were needed to ensure it did not cause massive unintended consequences, such as an AI military arms race.
“AI can be the best thing mankind has done. And if we don’t get the settings right, the last,” he said in a chilling warning.
The WA iron ore magnate revealed his Minderoo Foundation was working with the world’s leading thinkers to tackle the big ethical questions posed by AI.
The initiative adds to the billionaire’s commitment to fund causes ranging from ending indigenous inequality, finding a cure for cancer, tackling modern slavery and ridding the oceans of plastic.
“I’ve looked deeper and deeper into it and I now see that artificial intelligence is going to touch every single aspect of our future lives,” Mr Forrest said.
“It will probably be the most powerful technology that man has ever invented, and I’m putting it above nuclear weapons. It can literally go everywhere and touch everything.
“I just feel we are sleepwalking into some of the unforeseen dangers which AI is going to bring.
“There is an arms race in AI, which could be extremely dangerous. Do we really want the next AK47 to be some small machine that is the size of a shoebox which can identify all its own targets, produced by the tens of thousands?”
Mr Forrest said he had seen the impact of AI with the introduction of autonomous trucks on his Pilbara mines. Instead of shedding jobs, staff at Fortescue had been retrained and put into better-paying, more-interesting jobs.
Mr Forrest said the progress of the technology could not be slowed but as a starting point he wanted a policy that AI “cannot be a harm to citizens”.
“China itself is really deeply concerned about it. They are reaching out to the United States and saying ‘We need to have a policy of zero harm to citizens’,” Mr Forrest, speaking from China today, said. “The way I look at it that should be a minimum policy.”
He said Minderoo was working with the leading thinkers in the world to develop a set of ethical principles that would be shared with interested governments.
“We will be driving awareness into populations and policy into government so that we don’t sleepwalk into tragedy on potentially a system-wide scale,” he said. “We believe this is the most powerful technology that has ever been developed by humankind and we have got to get the settings right.”
He pointed to the impact of the internet on personal privacy as an example. “Did we think about that when we launched Facebook and Google?”