AI Pause: Rest or Reset?

A tempest has erupted over a letter co-signed by Elon Musk and thousands of others calling for a halt to AI research after the researchers listed in the letter denounced its use of their work, some signatories were found to be phony, and others withdrew their support. But let us take a closer look. 

A Deep Dive 

Despite garnering media attention, the letter may merely serve to influence public opinion; it is unlikely that all businesses in the sector would consent to a ban. Unfortunately, the problem is that the letter was completely ambiguous or abstract in terms of what you would even do in this circumstance. It’s an efficient strategy just to announce, “We’re going to pause as an industry for six months,” in part because no one would truly agree on when it’s appropriate to resume development. 

Similar worries have been raised by others. Considering the perilous race, we’re in with ever-larger, unpredictable black-box models with emergent capabilities, effective controls for AI are urgently needed. Some people are looking to the government to enforce guardrails, but businesses have seen increases in stock performance after announcing AI, and many vendors have made it a priority in public.  

The rate at which the AI environment has transformed is the one point on which both sides of the argument can agree. The provision of voluntary guidelines for creating and using AI is not new. A Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights was produced by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in October. This week, FTC Chair Lina Khan stated that the agency would monitor the sector to maintain competition. 

Reading Between the Lines 

The letter’s thesis is similar to that of “longtermist” AI detractors like Musk who have been raising concerns for more than ten years. This viewpoint, which was first put forth by philosopher Nick Bostrom and later adopted by many tech insiders, cautions against the possibility that an AI could end up having the capability and the desire to exterminate humans due to either human error or malice. 


The mechanics of tech investment and startup capitalism render the kind of coordination and restraint that an AI “pause” would entail highly improbable. Yet this cry for a pause, backed by the richest man on the planet, is a reason to wonder. Is this pause for humanity to catch up to technology? Or it is merely a signal of defeat and a break delaying the inevitable? 

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