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'I warned you guys in 1984,' 'Terminator' filmmaker James Cameron says of AI's risks to humanity

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Oscar-winning Canadian filmmaker James Cameron says he agrees with experts in the artificial intelligence field that advancements in the technology pose a serious risk to humanity.

Cameron, who’s been critically acclaimed for his films “Titanic” and “Avatar,” among others, is in Ottawa Tuesday to launch a Canadian Geographic exhibit about his feats of deep-sea exploration.

He also directed and co-wrote the 1984 science fiction action film “Terminator,” about a cyborg assassin, and was asked by CTV News about his thoughts on recent predictions about the future of AI.

Many of the so-called godfathers of AI have recently issued warnings about the need to regulate the rapidly advancing technology before it poses a larger threat to humanity.

“I absolutely share their concern,” Cameron told CTV News Chief Political Correspondent Vassy Kapelos in a Canadian exclusive interview ahead of a conversation with his long-time mentor Dr. Joe MacInnis Tuesday.

“I warned you guys in 1984, and you didn't listen,” he said.

Cameron said it’s important to evaluate who is developing the technology, and whether they’re doing it for profit — “teaching greed” — or for defence, what he called “teaching paranoia.”

“I think the weaponization of AI is the biggest danger,” he said. “I think that we will get into the equivalent of a nuclear arms race with AI, and if we don't build it, the other guys are for sure going to build it, and so then it'll escalate.

“You could imagine an AI in a combat theatre, the whole thing just being fought by the computers at a speed humans can no longer intercede, and you have no ability to deescalate.”

AI AND THE HOLLYWOOD WRITERS', ACTORS' STRIKES

The use of AI and its need for regulation has also been a point of contention in the ongoing writers’ and actors’ strikes in the United States.

About 160,000 actors and other media professionals as part of the SAG-AFTRA union are on strike, joining on the picket line the more than 11,000 members of the Writers Guild of America, who have been on strike since early May.

The unions are arguing that performers need protections against their images and art being used by AI technology without their consent, and the writers say studios shouldn’t be allowed to replace them with AI to write scripts.

“If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher told reporters last week. “We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines.”

Cameron said Tuesday he doesn’t believe the technology is or will soon be at a level of replacing writers, especially because “it’s never an issue of who wrote it, it's a question of, is it a good story?”

“I just don't personally believe that a disembodied mind that's just regurgitating what other embodied minds have said — about the life that they've had, about love, about lying, about fear, about mortality — and just put it all together into a word salad and then regurgitate it … I don't believe that have something that's going to move an audience,” he said.

Cameron said while he “certainly wouldn't be interested” in AI writing his scripts, time will tell the impact they’ll have on the industry.

“Let's wait 20 years, and if an AI wins an Oscar for Best Screenplay, I think we've got to take them seriously,” he said, when pressed on whether he’s open the possibility of accepting an AI-produced script.

Cameron’s full interview with Kapelos will be available on CTVNews.ca and the CTV News app, and will be broadcast in part on CTV News Channel, CTV National News and CP24.

It will also air on The Vassy Kapelos Show Wednesday.

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