At Yale Event Honoring Steven Spielberg, Little Consensus On AI Future

Steven Spielberg
Some 58 percent said they were not worried about the potential for AI to “destroy humanity” but 42 percent said they expected it might within five to 10 years.

As business and society try and adapt to the incredible leaps being made in artificial intelligence, company leaders, lawmakers, regulators and technologists are struggling to make sense of the best way forward. And that way forward is anything but clear right now.

At an online gathering of more than 250 leaders from across business, media, government, academia and entertainment to honor filmmaker Steven Spielberg and discuss AI and it’s opportunities and challenges, convened last week by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, CEO of the Yale School of Management’s CEO Leadership Institute, there was little consensus on where we’re going with AI, and what to do about it.

While some 87 percent of the CEOs surveyed at the event disagreed with the notion that the potential opportunity for using AI was “overstated” there was a big split on whether or not the technology could have catastrophic implications, with 42 percent saying yes and 58 percent saying no. The same number—58 percent—said they were not worried about the potential for AI to “destroy humanity” but 42 percent said they expected it might within 5 to 10 years.

Among the high-ranking Washington leaders on the call, including Connecticut Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Ro Khanna, the California Democrat who represents Silicon Valley in the House, there was consensus that some form of regulation was needed, but little agreement—so far—on exactly what shape that would take.

Blumenthal once again called for the development of a “commission” modeled after the FDA that would impose some kind of “licensing regime” on AI, as well as “a kind of nutrition label so that people can distinguish between the faith and the true, and so that there is greater identification, watermark, if you will, on some of these products.”

“There’s a lot of government support for some kind of government regulation,” he said.

Others argued that while there was clearly a role for government to play here, lawmakers should also be concerned about reflexively over-regulating and locking in big tech’s monopoly position with yet another generation of technology.

For now, “the big platform providers are forced to essentially have open access to allow startup companies to build on their models,” said AOL founder Steve Case.

“But historically, once the arms race ends and the winners are clear, they tend to back off and turn off the people that are working on their platforms. So, an open access provision, [is] hugely important, and unleashing innovation in the internet is one of the things that needs to be put in place as we think about the right policy for AI.”

More broadly, Roger McNamee, the longtime technology investor who, most famously, was an early investor in Facebook but later came to warn against the company’s practices and ethics, said businesses should guard against getting caught up in hype about generative AI.

His biggest concern was that the proper care would not be taken in the rollout of these technologies and we’d see the same kind of long-term missteps in their creation and adaptation that we’d seen in the past.

His take: The underlying unit economics of ChatGPT and other generative AI products were developed during a time of cheap capital, and, as interest rates rise, the costs of maintaining these systems at prices making them attractive to customers is requiring an unprecedented amount of hoopla to “convince you that this is inevitable.”

“There is an arms race going on and an attempt to get to a position where they have the same kind of control over all of you that Google has in search, and that Facebook has in social media,” said McNamee.

Nonetheless, CEO after CEO, from Lazard’s Peter Orszag to Coca-Cola’s James Quincey to Panera’s Niren Chaudhary and many more, offered example after example of how they were already using AI within their companies to improve customer experience, unleash creativity and explode productivity.

“In our case as it relates to generative AI and other technologies it is really an exciting time,” said WalMart’s Doug McMillon. “It feels like frequently that we’re only limited by our imaginations as it relates to what we can do.”

All of which sounded just fine to filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who was on the call to be honored with CELI’s Legend in Leadership Award—just as long as it didn’t interfere too deeply with creative work like writing, directing and acting: “As Vito Corleone said in the first Godfather movie, ‘as long as your business doesn’t interfere with mine.’”

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