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Response to Sam Altman’s Senate Hearing, A Small Fish’s Plea



As we all know, business is downstream of engineering, which is downstream of science. Science creates the knowledge that business winds up utilizing, through methods of engineering, to create market value. But science profiteers are seeking to hold back the industry from doing what’s necessary to maximize learning and value-creation for the world.

The dot-com boom, a period marked by revolutionary growth and innovation, could have been strangled in its cradle had closed-source software interests prevailed. The speed and agility that characterized the boom would’ve been shackled, replaced by a sluggish march through red tape and bureaucracy. Certainly, the web comes with its share of perils; it’s a platform that can be used for misinformation, data theft, and other nefarious activities. However, it’s undeniable that these dangers are vastly outweighed by the liberation of information it affords.

Transplanting the model of closed-source software onto the burgeoning field of machine learning would pose significant risks not just to small businesses, but indeed to all businesses that do not stand among the industry titans. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman recently appeared before a Senate panel, voicing his belief that the current surge in AI development represents a transformative “printing press moment” necessitating comprehensive safeguards. He argued that increasingly powerful AI models present notable risks that warrant governmental regulatory intervention. Specifically, Altman urged Congress to establish licensing and safety standards for advanced AI models exceeding a certain capability threshold. He is also calling for independent audits of AI companies like his own OpenAI, amplifying the cost for small businesses that may not have the resources to afford such an audit.

Effectively, Altman is advocating for Congress to enact regulations ensuring that the development and release of AI models above a presently vague threshold of capabilities are only done by licensed companies. This would create a barrier to entry for small businesses and startups, as they may not have the resources to meet the licensing and testing requirements set forth by the government.

Sam Altman, as well as the other business leaders on Capitol Hill who are urging a “slowdown” in model development so that regulations can be put in place, are acting out of their own self-interest. The enactment of Altman’s request to Congress would lead to a concentration of power and wealth among a few giants, while stifling the lifeblood of grassroots innovation – the very innovation that enables the American Dream, underscoring the belief that any individual can make a significant impact through their creative contributions and entrepreneurial spirit.

In response to the testimonies before the Senate panel, it is crucial to note that while the concerns raised by Altman have their merits, they do not provide a clear-cut rationale for infringing on the rights of small businesses to develop AI technologies openly. Indeed, interference in elections or other forms of manipulation and misuse are valid concerns. However, the proposed restrictions appear to address the symptoms rather than the root cause: the individuals who intend to use AI for nefarious purposes.

Any AI model, regardless of built-in safeguards, can be manipulated or “jailbroken” by a determined individual with the right skills. For example, even the highly sophisticated GPT-4 model developed under Altman’s own leadership at OpenAI can be coaxed into describing how to hotwire a car. Would this potential for misuse justify governmental intervention to halt OpenAI’s development efforts?

Overarching restrictions on AI development could inadvertently stifle innovation and the natural evolution of technology, particularly affecting smaller businesses that are not yet industry titans but are critical contributors to our innovative ecosystem. The industry should instead prioritize responsible use and development of AI while taking action against those who misuse these powerful tools.

It is difficult to argue against vaguely defined ideas, but it is clear that imposing a closed-source model on artificial intelligence could disrupt our collective march for progress, particularly affecting smaller businesses. While calls for regulation and oversight, such as those advocated by Sam Altman, are not without merit, they risk stifling innovation and concentrating power among a select few. It is crucial that we address the potential misuse of AI at its root – the malicious individuals – rather than impede the natural flow of progress. Let us continue to foster a culture of responsible use, strike a careful balance between regulation and innovation, and keep the American Dream alive and well for the generation of Americans born into the AI era.