Warren Buffett likens A.I. to atomic bomb in that ‘we won’t be able to un-invent it’
Few nonagenarians would have people clamoring for their take on artificial intelligence. But Warren Buffett, 92, and Charlie Munger, 99, provided their insights on today’s hottest technology at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting on Saturday, with a rapt audience looking on.
Buffett acknowledged A.I.’s “amazing” capabilities. He played around with OpenAI’s ChatGPT when ex-Microsoft CEO Bill Gates showed it to him three months ago. (Microsoft has invested heavily in OpenAI.) But, the Berkshire CEO added:
“When something can do all kinds of things I get a little bit worried, because I know we won’t be able to un-invent it. We did invent—for very, very good reason—the atom bomb in World War II, and it was enormously important that we did so. But is it good for the next 200 years of the world that the ability….has been unleashed?”
He noted that Albert Einstein said the atomic bomb changes everything but how men think. (The exact quote was, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”)
Similarly with A.I., Buffett said, “it can change everything in the world except how men think and behave.”
As for Munger, the Berkshire vice chairman expressed his characteristic skepticism toward the technology.
“I am personally skeptical of some of the hype that has gone into artificial intelligence,” he said. “I think old-fashioned intelligence works pretty well.” (That line drew applause from the audience.)
“There won’t be anything in A.I. that replaces the G,” Buffett added. “I’ll state that unqualifiedly.”
AGI, or artificial general intelligence, refers to A.I. getting to a point (eventually) where it can figure out a solution to an unfamiliar task. OpenAI defines it as “highly autonomous systems that outperform humans at most economically valuable work.”
There’s little doubt about the A.I. hype that Munger referred to. In first-quarter earnings calls so far this year, A.I. has been mentioned more than 1,070 times, according to Bloomberg, more than doubling from a year ago, as companies attempt associate themselves with the technology.
One exception has been Apple, which addressed A.I. in its earning call only once, when CEO Tim Cook briefly answered a question about it in the Q&A session. Cook said A.I. is “huge” but cautioned it’s “very important to be deliberate and thoughtful” about deploying the technology.
Buffett, as it happens, heaped praise upon Apple at today’s conference, calling it better than any other company in Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio.
Buffett also shared his thoughts about A.I. this week with local station WOWT in Omaha, Nebraska, where the conference is held.
“It’s not going to tell me which stocks to buy or anything of the sort,” Buffett said. “It can tell me every stock that meets a certain criteria, or a criteria, in three seconds or something. But it’s got decided limitations in some ways.”
“It’s very interesting,” he continued. “It can translate the Constitution into Spanish in one second. But the computer could not tell jokes…I told Bill to bring it back when I can ask it, ‘How are you going to get rid of the human race?’ I want to see what it says—and pull the plug out before it does it.”