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Open letter promising better AI for the future lacks action

The letter initiated by venture capitalist Ron Conway and his investment firm SV Angel was signed by OpenAI and Google. It pledges a better future and benefits from the technology.

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OpenAI and Google are among 300-plus technology vendors that signed an open letter pledging to build responsible AI for the future.

Venture capitalist Ron Conway and his firm SV Angel released the letter on March 4. The signatories promise to work to build better AI technology.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman shared it on X, formerly known as Twitter, stating he was excited about the spirit expressed in the document.

"Progressing in AI will be one of the biggest factors in improving people's quality of life," Altman tweeted. "We need to build it and make it widely available."

The letter comes days after X owner Elon Musk filed a lawsuit against OpenAI and two of its co-founders, Altman and Greg Brockman, for a breach of contract in allegedly not directing OpenAI to pursue the development of open and safe AI technology as the founding agreement specified.

It also comes as Google faces criticism over its Gemini AI model for not generating historically accurate images of figures.

Lack of actionable steps

While the letter expressed admirable aspirations, it doesn't include any actionable steps, said Chirag Shah, professor in the Information School at the University of Washington.

"It actually makes me furious because it's a nothing letter," Shah said. He added that it's the equivalent of saying we should all be good people, but it doesn't provide steps to put the sentiment into action. "It doesn't give any details. It doesn't have any commitment."

[The letter] doesn't give any details. It doesn't have any commitment.
Chirag ShahProfessor, University of Washington

Moreover, while the letter was initiated by SV Angel, some could say it is an image repair maneuver for OpenAI following the Musk lawsuit, said Michael Bennett, AI law and policy adviser at Northeastern University

OpenAI has reportedly circulated an internal memo refuting the complaint within the lawsuit.

"There's no regulatory teeth behind it or anything like that," Bennett said, referring to the open letter. "It feels a little bit like a PR response from OpenAI's perspective, but it does not seem like they initiated it."

A catalyst

Regardless of how the letter came about, the document could become a catalyst, Bennett added.

"My bet is that over the next two or three weeks the significance of this letter will probably grow," he said. "It'll probably wind up being an element of a broader strategy at the industry level."

The letter started by SV Angel is not the only public statement by industry players about AI ethics and safety.

Another letter released on Tuesday by the MIT-based A Safe Harbor for Independent AI Evaluation group proposes that AI organizations make changes to promote the safety, and security of AI systems.

The letter asks AI companies to provide basic protections for more equitable access to AI safety and trustworthy research.

Along with these moves, the AI industry is seeing growing legislative interest in regulating the fast-growing technology.

"There's a lot of pressure on the industry," Bennett said.

For example, several states have now begun to use the AI Bill of Rights that came out of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as a blueprint for future laws.

Also, federal lawmakers are considering a bill to prevent algorithmic discrimination in AI systems, though it is stalled in committee.

"There are real efforts happening to actually have responsible AI," Shah said. "As we give uncalled attention to these things, we don't want to forget that there's real work happening."

Esther Ajao is a TechTarget Editorial news writer and podcast host covering artificial intelligence software and systems.

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