Maybe There’s More Than Meets The Eye In AI’s “Oppenheimer Moment”?

John Battelle
5 min readMay 31
Scary shit!

(original post)

Well that was something. Yesterday the Center for AI Safety, which didn’t exist last year, released a powerful 22-word statement that sent the world’s journalists into a predictable paroxysm of hand-wringing:

“Mitigating the risk of extinction from A.I. should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks, such as pandemics and nuclear war.”

Oh my. I mean, NUCLEAR WAR folks. I mean, the END OF THE WORLD! And thank God, I mean, really, thank the ever-loving LORD that tech’s new crop of genius Great Men — leaders from Microsoft, Google, OpenAI and the like — have all come together to proclaim that indeed, this is a VERY BIG PROBLEM and not to worry, they all very much WANT TO BE REGULATED, as soon as humanly possible, please.

The image at top is how CNN responded in its widely read “Reliable Sources” media industry newsletter, which is as good a barometer of media groupthink as the front page of The New York Times, which also prominently featured the story (along with a requisite “the cool kids are now doing AI in a rented mansion” fluff piece. Same ice cream, different flavor).

But as is often the case, the press is once again failing to see the bigger story here. The easy win of a form-fitting narrative is just too damn tasty — confirmation bias be damned, full steam ahead!

So I want to call a little bullshit on this whole enterprise, if I may.

First, a caveat. Of course we want to mitigate the risk of AI. I mean, duh. My goal in writing this post is not to join the ranks of those who believe AI will never pose a dire threat to humanity, or of those waiting by their keyboards to join the singularity. My point is simply this: When a group of industry folks drop what looks like an opportunistic A-bomb on the willing press, it kind of makes sense to think through the why of it all.

Let’s review a few facts. First and foremost, the statement served as a coming out party for The Center for AI Safety, a five-month old organization that lists no funders, no phone number, and just a smattering of staff members (none of…

John Battelle

A Founder of The Recount, NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business