Edward Snowden Warns of AI Power Grabs: Are We Heading Towards a Tech Monopoly?

Wilson Chua
3 min readJun 5, 2024

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At the recent SuperAI conference in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, Edward Snowden voiced significant concerns about the evolving landscape of artificial intelligence (AI). He particularly highlighted the increasing efforts to control and monopolize AI development without a thorough understanding of its implications.

Edward Snowden and Ben Goertzel on stage

Snowden criticized the “home-baked” AI safety initiatives, especially those that inject political agendas into the technology. He pointed to a specific law in California, labeling it flawed and ineffective. He further observed that large corporations often use AI “safety issues” as a pretext to stifle competition from smaller entities. Moreover, Snowden noted that governments leverage the financial resources of companies as a means of exerting control over emerging technologies. He cited the telecommunications industry as an example, where once-dominant players like Nokia and Siemens were eventually overshadowed by Huawei, though he did not mention the U.S. sanctions against Huawei.

Edward Snowden likened AI to raising a child. Just because a child might grow up to be dangerous doesn’t mean we should stop having children altogether. Remember that most children grow up to be productive members of society while taking care of their elderly. So in the same vein, not raising children because of the fear, is similar to saying that we shouldn’t pursue AI (or AGI) in this case.

Similarly, wealthy nations and companies are implicitly claiming the right to develop AI while excluding poorer countries and smaller startups. This is like saying only the rich should have the privilege of raising children. This perspective is both unfair and limiting.

Joining Snowden, Ben Goertzel of Singularity.net remarked on the prevalent fear that advanced AI could inherently pose a threat to humanity. Some believe that an AI, initially beneficial, might turn against humans once it surpasses their intelligence. Snowden countered this by emphasizing the value of cooperation, asserting that AI and humans can achieve greater outcomes together.

Both Snowden and Goertzel agreed that imposing restrictive laws could hinder AI progress. Goertzel suggested decentralizing AGI deployment, potentially through blockchain technology, as a strategy to avoid regulatory capture and ensure more equitable development of AI.

Note:
Edward Joseph Snowden, born on June 21, 1983, is an American and naturalized Russian citizen. He is famous for leaking highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. His disclosures uncovered extensive global surveillance programs run by the NSA and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, involving cooperation with telecommunication companies and European governments. This ignited a major discussion on national security and individual privacy.

Snowden worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, Dell, and the CIA, and grew disillusioned with the surveillance programs. His attempts to address ethical concerns internally were ignored. He is currently indicted for espionage and living in exile in Russia. Despite controversy, his revelations have led to significant legal and policy changes regarding privacy and mass surveillance in the U.S.

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