Newshub Nation: New Zealanders warned they need 'transition plan' as Artificial Intelligence becomes more widespread

With generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools capturing attention and imagination across the world, fears are growing about their potential impact on societies as they become more widely used.  

This week an AI Safety Summit was held in the UK, but due to New Zealand's Government being in its caretaker period we only attended in an observer capacity.    

Hema Sridhar from Koi Tū said, "There are certainly some existential threats that we need to address".  

Sridhar is the strategic adviser for technological futures at a think tank that advertises itself as focusing on "long-term, complex problems challenging our future".  

Sridhar and Sir Peter Gluckman, a scientist who served as the inaugural Chief Science Advisor to New Zealand's Prime Minister from 2009 to 2018, called for an international analytical AI framework to evaluate new digital technologies ahead of the AI Safety Summit. 

Sridhar spoke to Newshub Nation's Digital Editor Finn Hogan about what the framework would entail and why it is increasingly necessary as technological advancements outpace regulation in New Zealand and across the world.   

Sridhar said that advancements in AI are increasingly going to pose risks to everyday Kiwis, describing AI's capabilities as "much more far-reaching" and invasive.  

"Everyday things like some of the scams that people see are going to get much more believable and very hard for the average person to discern whether it's truly a scam."  

She also warned the capacity for disinformation to convince people of falsities and disseminate widely will be bolstered by AI advancements.  

People's job security will also be put at risk by AI.  

A recent PEW Research Centre study found that a fifth of jobs in the US were at a high risk of automation, and another study found 80 percent of jobs could be at least somewhat automated.

Sridhar said that job losses are going to pose a real challenge as generative AI becomes more widespread.  

"As with any technology, there is naturally a displacement of some sectors and some jobs in some roles," she said.   

"What we're going to see now though, is that this is going to happen at a scale that is unprecedented and in a very short period of time."  

She suggested people get ahead by understanding what parts of their jobs could be automated and which couldn't.  

"You need to understand this so you can determine whether you're actually okay with this or not," she said.   

Sridhar advised people to have a "transition plan" for themselves and their whānau, "if you have to move to a different area altogether".  

She said the challenge for governments around the world is going to be managing the transition, but she also said that there will be massive positives associated with generative AI becoming more widely used in workforces.   

"It's going to come with huge amounts of productivity gains and economic prosperity." But she added, "Different communities are going to experience different levels of risk than others".  

While AI will undoubtedly influence the nature of work, there are fears it could also threaten humanity's very existence.   

Half of all AI researchers believe that there's a 10 percent or greater chance that humans will go extinct from their inability to control AI.  

Sridhar agreed there are "certainly some existential threats that we need to address".  

"But I think one of the really important things that we have to not forget here is AI is not happening to us. We are still part of this, and humans have a role to play here."  

She argued New Zealand needs to be looking to countries like the US, China, and the UK, for interventions and measures that can ensure AI's existential threat does not materialise.   

At the AI Safety Summit, the UK, US, EU, China, and Australia, amongst others, signed the 'Bletchley Declaration', agreeing that AI poses a potentially "catastrophic" risk to humanity.  

New Zealand has not signed the declaration, but a spokesperson for the Labour Government said, "While we were unable to sign on to the Bletchley Declaration at this time, we understand the UK may in the near future open it up for others to sign on to it".   

Dr Andrew Lensen, a Senior Lecturer in Artificial Intelligence at Victoria University, said "New Zealand is floundering in our regulation of AI.  

"Our politicians should be watching this summit very carefully to guide their thinking – while also considering the issues specific to Aotearoa, such as Māori Data Sovereignty and the tendency for commercial AI systems to be optimised for Caucasian demographics."  

On Monday, ahead of the AI Safety Summit, United States President Joe Biden signed an executive order that seeks to reduce the risks that AI poses to consumers, workers, minority groups and national security in the US.  

Alongside managing the advancement of AI, Sridhar said New Zealand must also keep in step with advancements in synthetic bio and quantum technologies,   

"We need to understand that whatever regulation we put in place has to be agile, has to be adaptive, and has to keep up with where these technologies are going.  

"We need to actually partner with the international community because we're all grappling with the same challenges," she said.   

This is where Sridhar and Gluckman's framework comes in.   

"The driver behind the framework was because we realized there's a gap between the principles which we've talked about and their applications, which is the regulatory frameworks and some of the policy implementations," Sridhar said.   

She wants the framework to "bridge that gap," by giving its users " the context of the dimensions in which you need to consider emerging technologies and their wide-ranging social impacts".  

The framework will be like a checklist and "will be useful for all policymakers, decision-makers and the private sector".  

While the advancement of AI undoubtedly poses risk, Sridhar said she is excited for the massive opportunities in bespoke healthcare and education opportunities that AI will provide, amongst others.  

"We have the ability to bring our kids along on this journey so that no one's left behind.  

"I think there's a lot of positive in terms of the social good that it can do, I think the challenge we've got is figuring out how do we balance and ensure that we leverage all of the good that could come from it and mitigate the negative."

Watch the full video for more.  

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