Before being cut from almost all means of communication with the outside world in March, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who remains in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, has shared his outlook on threats the humanity faces in connection with AI development and data protection.
One of the world’s most famous whistleblowers, Julian Assange, sought by the US for leaking classified documents through his site WikiLeaks on the Iraqi war for almost a decade, has predicted a grim scenario which is “very unstable about technological civilization,” claiming it “doesn’t go on for long” because of very rapid competition in the wired-up world.
“It can produce very robust artificial intelligences that can be coupled with states. You can see this in the United States and China… these two forces are going to take all the market. And the rapid competition between them with the backing and support of the states behind them, exacerbation of the commercial competition through the geopolitical competition will lead to an uncontrollable desire for growth of the artificial intelligence capacity, leading to a very severe conflict or stultification. That’s our biggest threat,” he said in the video, recorded before his almost complete blackout and released by the organizers of the World Ethical Data Forum in Barcelona.
According to the WikiLeaks founder, “that geopolitical competition harnessed by the largest artificial intelligence companies” are poised “to ratchet up a process which human beings can no longer control.”
“[Human] institutions are built on competition, and growing in size and dominating the market, etc. take any advantage they get and will continue to ratchet up the competition. Everything they produce has that DNA in it. That’s where we are headed, and that’s our severe threat to human beings in general, and all businesses. Perhaps the answer to that threat is that people understand computer security, offensive computer security,” Assange said in the interview.
The emerging capacity of big entities and private enterprises to pursue mass data gathering on people, in combination with the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has also played a significant role. With Google and Baidu and Tencent and Amazon and Facebook “basically open-cut harvesting the knowledge of humankind, when we communicate with each other,” this classical model, called “surveillance capitalism” has changed now.
“It’s a really very important and severe economic change. Which is to take the surveillance capitalism model and transform it instead into a model that does not yet have a name, an ‘AI model’. Which is to use this vast reservoir to train Artificial Intelligences of different kinds. This would replace not only intermediary sectors –most things you do on the internet is in a sense more efficient intermediation– but to take over the transport sector, or create whole new sectors,” Assange stated.
He also warned against the growing vulnerability of personal data, which is more and more often targeted and stolen by criminals. Additionally, people have to negotiate their relationship with all the world’s major powers from the earliest age. Only “very few technically capable people are able to live apart,” which “smells a bit like totalitarianism,” Assange opines.
“This generation being born now… is the last free generation. You are born and either immediately or within say a year you are known globally. Your identity in one form or another –coming as a result of your idiotic parents plastering your name and photos all over Facebook or as a result of insurance applications or passport applications– is known to all major world powers. That’s a very different situation from how it previously used to be,” he stated in the video.
The social media warning from Assange was received with mixed feelings among netizens.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living in Ecuador’s UK Embassy since 2012 fearing the UK may extradite him to the US, where he could face prosecution over WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked US military and diplomatic documents. Recently Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno touched upon the issue of expelling Assange from the embassy, but noted that the UK must first guarantee the activist’s safety. His statements followed conflicting media reports that Ecuador might revoke Assange’s asylum and that the whistleblower might leave voluntarily due to his worsening health.