Why you can trust us

Engadget has been testing and reviewing consumer tech since 2004. Our stories may include affiliate links; if you buy something through a link, we may earn a commission. Read more about how we evaluate products.

'Godfather of AI' leaves Google amid ethical concerns

Geoffrey Hinton is worried AI could eliminate jobs and spread misinformation.

REUTERS/Mark Blinch

One of the pioneers of artificial intelligence has made a high-profile exit. Geoffrey Hinton, nicknamed the "godfather of AI," tells The New York Times he resigned as Google VP and engineering fellow in April to freely warn of the risks associated with the technology. The researcher is concerned that Google is giving up its previous restraint on public AI releases in a bid to compete with ChatGPT, Bing Chat and similar models, opening the door to multiple ethical problems.

In the near term, Hinton is worried that generative AI could lead to a wave of misinformation. You might "not be able to know what is true anymore," he says. He's also concerned it might not just eliminate "drudge work," but outright replace some jobs. Going forward, the scientist is concerned about both the possibility of fully autonomous weapons and the tendency of AI models to learn odd behavior from training data. While some of these issues are theoretical, Hinton fears an escalation that won't be checked without regulations or the development of effective controls.

Hinton says his stance began changing last year, when Google, OpenAI and others began creating AI systems that he believes are sometimes superior to human intelligence. AI has developed rapidly in just the past five years — it's "scary" what could happen in the next five, the researcher suggests.

In a statement to Engadget, Google's chief scientist Jeff Dean says his firm is still dedicated to a "responsible approach" and on guard for "emerging risks." The search giant recently released a rough version of its Bard chatbot in March following months of rumors the company is worried about the competitive threat of generative AI. Before then, it refused to publicly release AI models like its art-oriented Imagen over the potential for toxic content and copyright violations.

Hinton has devoted his career to studying the neural networks that are often key to AI, but is best known for developing an object recognition system in 2012. His breakthrough neural net could use training images to help recognize common objects. Google bought Hinton's DNNresearch startup in 2013, and the underlying concept of his invention helped foster a surge of development that led to today's generative tech.

Hinton isn't alone. A number of influential academics and tech luminaries, including Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak, recently signed an open letter calling for a six-month pause on AI development to address ethical and safety problems. As one of the most prominent figures in the industry, though, Hinton's word carries significant weight.