A lobbying group backed by Ilon Musk and linked to a controversial ideology popular among tech billionaires is fighting to keep killer robots from destroying humanity, and it has taken on the European Artificial Intelligence Act to do so, Politico noted
The Future of Life Institute (FLI) has influenced some of the most controversial elements of the AI Act over the past year. Despite the group's ties to Silicon Valley, big tech giants like Google and Microsoft have found themselves on the losing side of FLI's arguments.
Some worry that the institute represents a technological concern about unlikely threats that could distract attention from more pressing issues. But most agree that FLI has been effective during its time in Brussels.
“They’re rather pragmatic and they have legal and technical expertise,” said Kai Zenner, a digital policy adviser to center-right MEP Axel Voss, who works on the AI Act. “They’re sometimes a bit too worried about technology, but they raise a lot of good points.”
Founded in 2014 by MIT academic Max Tegmark and backed by technology grants including Musk, Skype's Jaan Tallin and crypto wunderkind Vitalik Buterin, FLI is a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating "existential risks" - events that could destroy or doom humanity. Its external advisors include actors Morgan Freeman and Alan Alda, as well as renowned scientists Martin (Lord) Rees and Nick Bostrom.
Chief among these threats and FLI's priorities is a rampaging artificial intelligence.
“We've seen plane crashes because an autopilot couldn't be overruled. We've seen a storming of the U.S. Capitol because an algorithm was trained to maximize engagement. These are AI safety failures today — as these systems become more powerful, harms might become worse,” Mark Brakel, FLI director of European policy, said in an interview.
But the lobbying group faces two problems. First, Musk, its most prominent patron, has been caught in the middle of a storm as he has launched massive layoffs at Twitter as its new owner, drawing the attention of regulators as well. Musk's contradictions could make lawmakers nervous to talk to FLI. Second, the group's ties to a set of beliefs known as effective altruism are surprising.
The arrival of a lobbying group fighting extinction, displaced artificial intelligence, and killer robots should have refreshed Brussels' sluggish politics.
FLI's Brussels office opened in mid-2021, when discussions of the European Commission's proposal for an Artificial Intelligence Act began.
Brakel, a former diplomat and native of the Netherlands, joined the institute in May 2021. He decided to work in the field of artificial intelligence policy as an area that was both effective and underserved.
Since its founding in Brussels, the institute's three-member team has led efforts to lobby on little-known AI issues.
The group also plays on European fears of U.S. and Chinese technological dominance.
Another passion of FLI is banning AI that can manipulate human behavior. The original proposal bans manipulative AI, but it is limited to "subliminal" methods, which Brakel believes would create loopholes.
But the co-rapporteur of the Artificial Intelligence Act, Romanian Renew lawmaker Dragos Tudorache, is now pushing to make the ban more comprehensive.