AI may pose 'existential threat,' physicians warn in BMJ

Lacking proper regulation, artificial intelligence poses a threat to human health, a group of physicians and public health experts warned in an analysis published May 9 in BMJ Global Health.

Regulations around certain types and applications of AI are needed to avoid negative and potentially catastrophic consequences for people's health and humanity itself, the authors — which include members of the Institute for Global Health and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War — wrote. 

Specifically, the experts call for a moratorium on the development of "self-improving artificial general intelligence," which is a theoretical machine able to learn and perform the full range of tasks that humans can. According to the paper, there are three key ways misused AI currently poses a threat to human health: through growing opportunities to control and manipulate people; enhancing and dehumanizing lethal weapon capacity; and the effects on work and employment. 

"The window of opportunity to avoid serious and potentially existential harms is closing," amid exponential growth of research and development on AI, the physicians wrote. 

While there are many opportunities for AI to improve healthcare, the authors called on members of the medical and healthcare community to raise awareness about the significant risks it poses and the need for effective regulation. 

"Importantly, the health community is familiar with the precautionary and has demonstrated its ability to shape public and political opinion about existential threats in the past. For example, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 because it assembled principled, authoritative and evidence-based arguments about the threats of nuclear war. We must do the same with AI, even as parts of our community espouse the benefits of AI in the fields of healthcare and medicine," the experts wrote. 

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