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Warren Buffet voices AI fears, likens tech to the atom bomb

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Video You can add Berkshire Hathaway chief Warren Buffett to the list of folks worried about the implications of artificial intelligence on society.

During the firm’s annual shareholder meeting on Saturday, Buffett compared the technology’s potential to the Manhattan Project and the arms race that followed.

“I really don’t know anything about AI,” the super-investor admitted during the meeting, which you can watch below. “Used in a pro-social way, it’s got terrific benefits to society. But, I don’t know how you make sure that happens any more than I know how to be sure that when you use two atomic bombs in World War II that you’d know you hadn’t created something that could destroy the world later.”

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Buffett also implied that just as with nuclear warfare capabilities, our hands are somewhat tied in the development of AI technologies in that if we don’t adopt it, someone else will.

Since the debut of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which sparked a flurry of investment in generative AI technologies, large language models, and the infrastructure on which they’re built, the technology has been championed as a way to do more with less.

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna has been rather blunt about where this is headed at his business. Last spring, the exec boasted that as many as 30 percent of IBM’s back office jobs could be automated with AI.

Big Blue has since joined a consortium of tech giants that aim to identify which IT jobs are likely to be eliminated by the technology first, with the stated goal of retraining staff to fill jobs that AI isn’t ready for.

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, another member of the consortium, opined last month that AI could one day see the formation of the single-person unicorn (a business with a valuation over a billion).

For Berkshire Hathaway’s part, Greg Abel, who is slated to succeed Buffett as CEO, admitted that AI will displace labor, but hopefully there are other opportunities for those laid off. Whether those opportunities would afford the same benefits, he didn’t say — there happens to be a shortage of janitors and truckers at the moment, so maybe that’s what he means by “opportunities.”

Unfortunately, Tesla, Figure, and an army of humanoid robotics startups seem keen to claim those before long, so those opportunities may be short lived.

For the moment, Abel says Berkshire Hathaway is largely investigating AI tools as a means to increase efficiency, effectiveness, and the safety of certain roles. However, he didn’t clarify which tools the business was using nor where they were being deployed.

Buffett isn’t the first to draw comparisons between AI’s societal impact and the nuclear arms race and cold war that followed the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Last week, politicians from around the globe offered a stark warning about the potential for AI to further dehumanize war and called for a ban on weaponized AI and killer robots.

In one of the more evocative comparisons, Austrian foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg described the issue as the “Oppenheimer moment of our generation,” before impressing the need for regulation to limit the use of AI in military applications. ®

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