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Sam Altman’s New AI Ethics Council: A ‘Race To Get To Scale’

Sam Altman's New AI Ethics Council: A ‘Race To Get To Scale’
July 10, 2024

With artificial intelligence growing in power, so too is the concern that the technology could be used for nefarious purposes, whether by America's geopolitical rivals or lone actors leveraging AI for their own means.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, the face of the AI revolution, has even acknowledged he's "a little bit scared" about AI's rapid advancements, and how critical it will be for society to quickly adapt.

To that end, Altman cofounded the new AI Ethics Council, along with Operation HOPE CEO John Hope Bryant, as a sort of non-binding AI governance model also intended ensure that traditionally underrepresented communities have a voice in the technological revolution.

"There are bad people in the world who will use artificial intelligence to do bad things," Bryant told Newsweek in an interview. “We need to get to scale before they do.”

The AI Ethics Council held its inaugural meeting on June 28 in Atlanta, about six months after it was first announced.

At the meeting, James Hairston, the head of international policy and partnerships with OpenAI, briefed the council members on the current state of AI. The council discussed the need to focus on technical capacity as well as evaluating the safety of advancements and how to prepare for them.

Who’s on the Council?

The AI Ethics Council was founded to be leading authority in identifying, advising on and addressing the ethical questions behind AI, such as bias and discrimination in training data and accountability issues that inevitably crop up when humans aren't making decisions. The council members include:

  • Sam Altman - CEO of OpenAI
  • John Hope Bryant - CEO of Operation HOPE
  • George French, Jr. - president of Clark Atlanta University and chair of presidents for the United Negro College Fund
  • Helene Gayle - president of Spelman College
  • Bernice King - CEO of The King Center
  • David Thomas - president of Morehouse College
  • Angela Williams - president and CEO of United Way Worldwide
  • Andrew Young - chairman of The Andrew J. Young Foundation, former U.N. Ambassador and former mayor of Atlanta

Bryant revealed to Newsweek that Van Jones, the CNN political analyst and lawyer, will also join the council. He and Altman are working to add other members as well.

"We're assembling the team, putting the infrastructure in place," Bryant said.

Why is the Council Important?

The AI Ethics Council says its foremost goal is putting in place ethical guidelines around artificial intelligence, given that it is still so new. The council is looking into how to ensure the advancements are transformative, but also ethical and inclusive.

"Artificial intelligence is transforming communities across the globe – changing the way we learn, work, grow, and innovate," Angela F. Williams, the President and CEO of United Way Worldwide, told Newsweek. "As with any new and disruptive technology, AI poses significant risks for misuse without ethical standards guiding the way."

One key principle for the council is to ensure the concerns of various races and ethnicities are addresses, Williams said.

"The AI revolution is here, and people of color and other historically underserved segments of society must not be left behind," she said, pointing to the potential of AI in addressing issues like poverty, hunger and climate change.

Bryant, who founded the financial literacy nonprofit Operation HOPE in 1992, added that when he first met with Altman he suggested that OpenAI reached out to people in underrepresented communities.

"Poor people, underserved folks don't get a voice in moments of change," Bryant told Newsweek. "Racism and sexism should not come into play."

"We're going to be an input mechanism for new perspectives into AI engines," Bryant said. "That's really important because AI is only as good as the inputs its getting on the front end."

Bryant said the "good people" who are running AI companies in the West have "some ethical framework" currently on how to run and grow their businesses. The council's mission is now to "race" to make these frameworks more widely embraced as AI penetrates the rest of the world.

"We want to get these leaders who have some ethical bones to embrace a set of standards, and we want to encourage them to get to market first so that it crowds out the ability for some rogue operator on the other part of the world to scale badness," Bryant said.

"It's a race to get to scale of good ideas and wrapping ethics around good ideas and good leaders is where we are now."

The council will share its first progress report at the 2024 HOPE Global Forums annual meeting in Atlanta in December.