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Boycott software: AI expert Gary Marcus calls on users to take action

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Boycott software: AI expert Gary Marcus calls on users to take action

AI expert Gary Marcus stands in front of the post office on Vancouver’s Granville Island and is easy to spot. He wears neon sneakers in the color “coral” and a blue Arcteryx jacket. I myself am in town for a family matter, Marcus has lived here in British Columbia since 2018 after living in New York City for 20 years. “I just think it’s paradise here,” he says as I accompany him on his daily walk around Granville Island and the nearby Kitsilano beach. Of course, our walk is about the current state of artificial intelligence.

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“I’m depressed about the current situation,” he says. “When I decided on this field, it wasn’t about diverting artists’ income to large corporations.” I take a long sip of my deep black coffee and we start walking. Marcus, professor emeritus at New York University, was a prominent AI researcher and cognitive scientist for a long time, but he is now best known for his vocal positioning against deep learning and other modern artificial intelligence techniques. He has many friends – and many enemies. His public exchange of blows with other AI giants such as Yann LeCun (Meta) and Geoffrey Hinton (ex-Google) is considered legendary. “All attempts to socialize me have failed,” he jokes.

The week we meet was full of big AI news. The Google subsidiary DeepMind launched the next generation of its powerful AI model Gemini, which is said to be able to work better with large amounts of videos, text and images. OpenAI, in turn, released an impressive new generative video model called Sora, which can turn a short text description into a detailed, high-resolution movie clip up to a minute long. AI video generation has been around for a while, but Sora seems to be taking the level up a notch.

The X-Timeline was flooded with amazing clips that people had created using the software. OpenAI also claimed that the research suggests that scaling video generation models like Sora is “a promising path to building general-purpose simulators of our physical world.”

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But – surprise – Marcus is less impressed. “If you [die Videos] When you look at it for a second you think, ‘Wow, that’s amazing’. But if you look closely, you can see that [das Modell] still doesn’t have common sense.” In some videos the physics are wrong, animals and people spontaneously appear and disappear again. Sometimes things just fly backwards.

For Marcus, the technology is also another example of the exploitative business model of technology companies. Many artists and writers, as well as media outlets like The New York Times, have sued AI companies because they believe their practice of indiscriminately harvesting data from the Internet to train their models violates intellectual property rights. Copyright issues are therefore an important topic for Marcus. In a research paper, he himself managed to get popular AI image generators to generate scenes from Marvel films or well-known characters such as the Minions, Sonic the Hedgehog and Star Wars. He is therefore committed to clearer rules about what content can and cannot be included in AI models.

“Video generation should not be based on copyrighted material captured without consent. Nor should it be in opaque systems where we don’t understand what’s going on,” he says. “This shouldn’t be legal. This is a question of ethics.”

We stop at a place with a beautiful view. We see the city, the high mountains of British Columbia, the beach. Rays of sunlight fall on the peak of a mountain across the bay. We couldn’t feel further from Silicon Valley, the epicenter of today’s AI boom. “I’m not a religious person, but this view always blows me away,” says Marcus. But despite the heavenly peace in nature, Marcus often uses his cell phone on such walks to rail against the power structures in Silicon Valley on X. At the moment, he says, he sees himself as an activist.

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When I ask him what motivates him, he answers without hesitation: “The people doing AI don’t really care about what is called responsible AI. The consequences for society could be serious.”

Late last year he wrote a book called Taming Silicon Valley, which will be published this fall. It is his manifesto on how AI should be regulated, but also a call to action. “We need to involve the public in the fight to get AI companies to behave responsibly,” he says. There are a number of actions people can take, from boycotting some software products to electing politicians who are guided by ethical technology policies.

Direct measures and a concrete AI policy are urgently needed because we are in a very narrow window of time in which we can still get things in order in AI. The risk is that we make the same mistakes that the state made with social media. “What we [dort] “What we’ve seen is just an appetizer of what’s to come,” he says. About 12,000 steps later, Marcus and I are back at the Public Market on Granville Island. I’m very hungry and Marcus shows me a place that has good bagels We both order salmon with cream cheese, eat outside in the sun and then say goodbye.

Later on the day of the interview, Marcus will make a series of X-posts about Sora. He saw enough evidence. “Sora is fantastic, but it’s more like morphing and splicing than a real path to the physical thinking we would need for a general artificial intelligence,” he writes. More errors in the system are to be expected if more users gain access. “A lot of this will be difficult to fix.” So let’s not say Marcus didn’t warn us.

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(jl)

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