Epoch AI researcher is trying to glimpse the future of AI.

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IImagine if the world's response to climate change relied solely on the speculative predictions of pundits and CEOs, rather than the hard—albeit still incomplete—climate science. “Two degrees of warming will come soon, but it will change the world less than we all think,” one might say. “Two degrees of warming is not just around the corner. It will take a long time,” another might reply.

That's more or less the world we're in with artificial intelligence, says Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, noting that AI systems that can perform any task a human can do are the “reasonably near future.” ” will be developed, while Facebook's chief AI scientist Ian Likon argues that a human-level AI system will “take a long time.”

28-year-old Spanish researcher Jaime Sevilla is trying to change that. It is unclear whether and how the capabilities of advanced AI systems will continue to rapidly develop, and what impact these systems will have on society. But given how important AI already is, Sevilla says, it's worth trying to bring a little bit of the rigor that characterizes climate science to predicting the future of AI. “Even if AI stops innovating, it's already a technology that's going to impact a lot of people's lives,” he says. “That should be enough of an excuse for us to get serious about it.”

Read more: 4 Charts That Show Why AI Progress Is Unlikely To Slow Down

To do this, in 2022 Sevilla founded Epoch AI, a nonprofit research organization that investigates historical trends in AI and uses those trends to predict how the technology will evolve in the future. can “We want to do for artificial intelligence what Nobel laureate William Nordhaus did for climate change,” he says. “He laid the foundation for thought process through rigorous study and evidence. And we want to do the same. We want to follow in his footsteps.”

Sevilla, bottom left, with members of the founding team in a meeting room at Epoch's first retreat in April 2022. Courtesy Sevilla/Jennifer Waldman

Sevilla grew up. In Torrejón de Ardoz, an industrial suburb of Madrid. His early interest in technology led him to pursue degrees in mathematics and computer engineering at the Completas University in Madrid. There, he unwittingly sowed the first seed of Epoch AI—in his first year, he returned to his high school to give a presentation on rationality and artificial intelligence, drawing on Pablo Villalobos, a student in the audience. Made an impression. Become Epoch AI's first volunteer employee.

In 2020, Sevilla began a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Aberdeen. Stuck at home by Covid-19 restrictions and feeling out of place as a sun-loving Spaniard in gloomy Scotland, he had time to think more seriously about where AI might go. can go. “Surprisingly, no one was doing a systematic analysis of what the trends in machine learning have been over the past few years,” he says. “I thought: Well, if nobody's doing it, I'll get to it.”

He and Villalobos began spending their spare hours pouring over hundreds of academic papers, documenting the amount of computational power and data used to power AI models. Feeling confident about the importance of the task but troubled by the size of the task, Sevilla put out a call for volunteers, whose respondents became the initial Epoch AI team. Together, the small group documented key inputs to every major AI model ever built. When they published their findings in early 2022, the response was overwhelmingly positive, with the paper going viral in certain areas of the Internet. Encouraged, Sevilla put his PhD on hold, solicited funding from philanthropists, and in April 2022 Epoch AI was born.

Since then, the organization, where Sevilla is director, has grown to 13 employees, scattered around the world. Team morale is maintained through a vibrant slack culture and occasional retreats where the small team strategizes and sings karaoke. It's a humble operation that was only professionalized two years ago, but already Epoch AI's work is widely used by governments trying to make sense of AI's rapid advances. The Netherlands government's vision on generative AI refers to the work of Epoch AI, as does a commission report by the UK government aimed at synthesizing evidence on the safety of advanced AI systems.

Two of the most significant efforts to guard the latest AI models — the EU AI Act and President Joe Biden's Executive Order on AI — set a limit on the computational power used to train AI models, which Strict rules apply above. Epoch AI's database of AI models has been an invaluable resource for policymakers in such efforts, says Lennart Hamm, a researcher at the nonprofit think tank RAND Corporation, who was a member of Epoch AI's founding group and now Also associated with this organization. “I think it's fair to say then that there is no other database in the world that is as complete and rigorous.”

Epoch AI researchers now want to go a step further, using their research on historical trends to inform predictions of AI's future impact. For example, in a paper published in November 2022, Epoch AI analyzed how the amount of data being fed into AI models is growing over time and estimated how much data is being fed to AI developers. Useful data is readily available. The researchers then pointed out that AI developers could soon run out of data unless they find new ways to feed their creations. Another study attempts to predict when AI systems, if widely available, will lead to societal changes comparable to the Industrial Revolution—their model predicts that by 2033. The probability of a result is 50 percent. This is just one model—Sevilla stresses that Epoch AI team members' personal predictions for such an event range from a year to a century away.

Read more: When can AI get better than us? It depends on who you ask.

Such uncertainty indicates that despite Epoch AI's efforts to tighten up the problem, there remains a great deal of unpredictability surrounding how AI will affect society. Sevilla hopes his organization will catalyze a broader effort to tackle the problem. “We want to encourage everyone to think harder about AI—to take seriously the possibility that this technology could bring about tremendous changes in the coming decades,” he says. Decisions around technology.”

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