May 30, 2024

Fei-Fei Li is a computer scientist who created a massive database, ImageNet, that laid the foundation for modern artificial intelligence, earning her the nickname “godmother of AI.” Now, she’s an AI policy adviser to the Biden Administration and the co-director of Stanford’s Human-Centered AI Institute. And she thinks the widespread “doom and gloom” about generative artificial intelligence technology is overblown.

“I [worry] about the overhyping of human extinction risk. I think that is blown out of control,” Li told Bloomberg’s Emily Cheng during Bloomberg Technology Summit Thursday.

Earlier this year, a state-funded report said that, in the worst case, AI could become an “extinction level threat” to humanity. That’s a scenario we’ve seen play out in sci-fi movies like iRobot and Ex Machina. But Li says such a prospect is unlikely, and the public should instead focus on the immediate, tangible impacts of artificial intelligence.

“It belongs to the world of sci-fi,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong about pondering about all this, but compared to the other, actual social risks — whether it’s the disruption of disinformation and misinformation to our democratic process, or, you know, the kind of labor market shift or [privacy] issues — these are true social risks that we have to face because they impact real people’s real life.”

Li also said there’s lots of reasons to be hopeful about AI, and she thinks the technology’s positive impacts aren’t spotlighted enough.

“There’s so many ways we can use this to make people’s life better, work better,” she said. “I don’t think we give enough voices to people who are actually out there, in the most imaginary way, creative way of trying to bring good to the world using AI.”

Li was named one of 12 National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource Task Force members by the White House in 2021. She consults with policymakers as they work to set up guardrails for the technology. Li is now working to build a spatial intelligence startup that uses human-like processing of visual data to make AI capable of advanced reasoning, Reuters reported last week, citing unnamed sources. Li declined to answer Cheng’s question about her plans for the startup during Bloomberg Tech Summit.

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