Contrary to reports, OpenAI probably isn’t building humanity-threatening AI

From TechCrunch: Has OpenAI invented an AI technology with the potential to “threaten humanity”? From some of the recent headlines, you might be inclined to think so.

Reuters and The Information first reported last week that several OpenAI staff members had, in a letter to the AI startup’s board of directors, flagged the “prowess” and “potential danger” of an internal research project known as “Q*.” This AI project, according to the reporting, could solve certain math problems — albeit only at grade-school level — but had in the researchers’ opinion a chance of building toward an elusive technical breakthrough.

There’s now debate as to whether OpenAI’s board ever received such a letter — The Verge cites a source suggesting that it didn’t. But the framing of Q* aside, Q* in actuality might not be as monumental — or threatening — as it sounds. It might not even be new.

AI researchers on X (formerly Twitter) including Yann LeCun, Meta’s chief AI scientist Yann LeCun, were immediately skeptical that Q* was anything more than an extension of existing work at OpenAI — and other AI research labs besides. In a post on X, Rick Lamers, who writes the Substack newsletter Coding with Intelligence, pointed to an MIT guest lecture OpenAI co-founder John Schulman gave seven years ago during which he described a mathematical function called “Q*.”

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