Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin warns of AI’s existential threat to humanity

Vitalik Buterin

28th November 2023 – (Vancouver) Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum’s co-founder, recently illuminated his views on ‘techno-optimism’, a concept inspired by the Techno-Optimist Manifesto penned by venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. Buterin’s perspective shines a light on the potential perils of unchecked artificial intelligence (AI) development, warning that a hyper-intelligent AI has the potential to spell the end of humanity.

Buterin’s contemplations, which echo Andreessen’s favourable views on AI, delve into the pivotal nature of AI’s developmental trajectory. He balances this with a sobering recognition of the existential risk posed by unregulated AI, hinting at the possibility of a superintelligent AI eradicating humanity.

The Ethereum co-founder cited a 2022 AI Impacts survey, highlighting the apprehensions of 5% to 10% of respondents regarding human extinction due to uncontrollable AI. He advocated for a security-focused open-source movement to guide AI development, envisioning it as a path towards a future where humans retain control in a superintelligent world.

Buterin underlined the importance of human intentionality in directing AI’s trajectory, emphasising the crucial role of conscious choice in determining its consequences. He applauded technology’s role in pushing the boundaries of human potential, from primitive tools to modern smartphones, dovetailing with his belief in the inherent goodness of humanity.

While Buterin recognises the transformative potential of technology, he opposes preserving the status quo. He champions the cultivation of technology that genuinely enhances human welfare while mitigating its adverse effects. He warned against the rise of digital authoritarianism and surveillance technology and voiced his concerns about the concentration of technological power.

Despite empathising with the effective acceleration (e/acc) movement, Buterin expressed scepticism about its endorsement of military technology. He cautioned against an America-centric worldview and the lack of transparency surrounding power concentrations, advocating instead for a philosophy favouring defence, decentralisation, democracy, and differential (d/acc) to foster pluralistic governance models and societal freedom.

Reflecting on the direction of acceleration, Buterin mused on the importance of the 21st century as a decisive turning point for humanity, shaping its destiny for centuries to come. He expressed optimism for humanity’s collective endeavour to resolve these critical issues, stating, “These are challenging problems, but I look forward to watching and participating in our species’ grand collective effort to find the answers.”

Buterin has drawn attention to the potential dangers of AI and centralisation. He voiced deep concerns about AI posing a threat to humanity if its development is not carefully supervised and controlled. He underscored the risks of AI gaining too much power and autonomy, warning that if AI’s values are not properly aligned with human values, it could make decisions detrimental to humanity.

Buterin expressed reservations about AI’s role in the world, even questioning ChatGPT about the role of humans, to which it responded, “It seems very hard to have a ‘friendly’ superintelligent-AI-dominated world where humans are anything other than pets.”

The Ethereum co-founder also acknowledged the critical issue of extreme centralisation and the precarious state of cybersecurity. He attributed this primarily to the absence of robust cyber defence mechanisms in crucial sectors.

Buterin emphasised that centralised chokepoints hinder industries’ ability to effectively collect data and manipulate outcomes. Consequently, he sees technologies like blockchains and zero-knowledge proofs as promising solutions for the future. These technologies could significantly enhance privacy, transparency, and security across various sectors.

Despite the challenges posed by these issues, Buterin remains optimistic about humanity’s collective ability to overcome them. He expressed his eagerness to witness the solutions that will emerge from collaborative efforts.