NEW YORK (CNN) — Many top business leaders are seriously worried that artificial intelligence could pose an existential threat to humanity in the not-too-distant future.
Forty-two percent of CEOs surveyed at the Yale CEO Summit this week say AI has the potential to destroy humanity five to ten years from now, according to survey results shared exclusively with CNN.
“It’s pretty dark and alarming,” Yale professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld said in a phone interview, referring to the findings.
The survey, conducted at a virtual event held by Sonnenfeld’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute, found little consensus about the risks and opportunities linked to AI.
Sonnenfeld said the survey included responses from 119 CEOs from a cross-section of business, including Walmart CEO Doug McMillion, Coca-Cola CEO James Quincy, the leaders of IT companies like Xerox and Zoom as well as CEOs from pharmaceutical, media and manufacturing.
The business leaders displayed a sharp divide over just how dangerous AI is to civilization.
While 34% of CEOs said AI could potentially destroy humanity in ten years and 8% said that could happen in five years, 58% said that could never happen and they are “not worried.”
In a separate question, Yale found that 42% of the CEOs surveyed say the potential catastrophe of AI is overstated, while 58% say it is not overstated.
The findings come just weeks after dozens of AI industry leaders, academics and even some celebrities signed a statement warning of an “extinction” risk from AI.
That statement, signed by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Geoffrey Hinton, the “godfather of AI” and top executives from Google and Microsoft, called for society to take steps to guard against the dangers of AI.
“Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war,” the statement said.
Blowing the whistle on AI
Hinton recently decided to sound the alarm on the technology he helped develop after worrying about just how intelligent it has become.
“I’m just a scientist who suddenly realized that these things are getting smarter than us,” Hinton told CNN’s Jake Tapper in May. “I want to sort of blow the whistle and say we should worry seriously about how we stop these things getting control over us.”
Hinton told CNN that if AI “gets to be much smarter than us, it will be very good at manipulation,” including “getting around restrictions we put on it.”
While business leaders debate the dangers of AI, the CEOs surveyed by Yale displayed a degree of agreement about the rewards.
Just 13% of the CEOs said the potential opportunity of AI is overstated, while 87% said it is not.
The CEOs indicated AI will have the most transformative impact in three key industries: healthcare (48%), professional services/IT (35%) and media/digital (11%).
As some inside and outside the tech world debate doomsday scenarios around AI, there are likely to be more immediate impacts, including the risks of misinformation and the loss of jobs.
‘Talking past each other’
Sonnenfeld, the Yale management guru, told CNN business leaders break down into five distinct camps when it comes to AI.
The first group, as described by Sonnenfeld, includes “curious creators” who are “naïve believers” who argue everything you can do, you should do.
“They are like Robert Oppenheimer, before the bomb,” Sonnenfeld said, referring to the American physicist known as the “father of the atomic bomb.”
Then there are the “euphoric true believers” who only see the good in technology, Sonnenfeld said.
Noting the AI boom set off by the popularity of ChatGPT and other new tools, Sonnenfeld described “commercial profiteers” who are enthusiastically seeking to cash in on the new technology. “They don’t know what they’re doing, but they’re racing into it,” he said.
And then there are the two camps pushing for an AI crackdown of sorts: alarmist activists and global governance advocates.
“These five groups are all talking past each other, with righteous indignation,” Sonnenfeld said.
The lack of consensus around how to approach AI underscores how even captains of industry are still trying to wrap their heads around the risks and rewards around what could be a real gamechanger for society.