Microsoft economist warns of A.I. election interference from ‘bad actors’

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Microsoft logo seen at their building in Redmond, Washington.
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People should worry more about “A.I. being used by bad actors” than they should about AI productivity outpacing human productivity, Microsoft chief economist Michael Schwarz said at a World Economic Forum event Wednesday.

“Before AI could take all your jobs, it could certainly do a lot of damage in the hands of spammers, people who want to manipulate elections,” Schwarz continued while speaking on a panel on harnessing generative AI.

Microsoft first invested $1 billion in OpenAI in 2019, years before the two companies would integrate OpenAI’s GPT large language model into Microsoft’s Bing search product. In January, Microsoft announced a new multiyear multibillion-dollar investment in the company. OpenAI relies on Microsoft to provide the computing heft that powers OpenAI’s products, a relationship that Wells Fargo recently said could result in up to $30 billion in new annual revenue for Microsoft.

Schwarz tempered his caution about AI by noting that all new technologies, even cars, carried a degree of risk when they first came to market. “When AI makes us more productive, we as mankind ought to be better off,” he noted, “because we are able to produce more stuff.”

OpenAI’s ChatGPT sparked a flood of investment in the AI sector. Google moved to launch a rival chatbot, Bard, sparking a wave of internal concern about a “botched” rollout. Politicians and regulators have expressed growing concern about the potential impact of AI technology as well.

Vice President Kamala Harris will meet Thursday with top executives from Anthropic, another AI firm, and Google, Microsoft and OpenAI to discuss responsible AI development, the White House told CNBC Tuesday. Meanwhile, FTC chair Lina Khan penned an op-ed in the New York Times Wednesday warning that “enforcers and regulators must be vigilant.”

“Please remember, breaking is much easier than building,” Schwarz noted.