May 4, 2024 - Business

Warren Buffett: AI is a genie that "scares the hell out of me"

Warren Buffet in golf cart

Warren Buffett is driven to the morning session during the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, on July 13, 2023. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Investing legend Warren Buffett on Saturday delivered a stark warning about artificial intelligence, likening the technology's rise to the development of nuclear weapons in World War II.

Why it matters: While it's not the first time Buffett has weighed in on AI risks, it comes at a time when AI is already creating vast amounts of paper wealth and stoking expectations about how the technology will upend everyday life.

Driving the news: Buffett made his remarks at Berkshire Hathaway's first annual meeting without Charlie Munger, the second-in-command who died in November at the age of 99.

What he's saying: During a question-and-answer session in Omaha, Buffett downplayed his expertise in AI, but "that doesn't mean I deny its existence or anything of the sort."

  • He harked back to his remarks at last year's meeting when he "said we let a genie out of the bottle when we developed nuclear weapons and that genie has now been doing some terrible things lately, and the power of that genie scares the hell out of me."
  • "Other than that I don't know any way to get the genie back into the bottle. AI is somewhat similar, it's part [of the] way out of the bottle and its enormously important, and it's going to be done by somebody so we may wish we'd never seen that genie or it may do wonderful things."
  • He specifically cited the rise of deepfake technology, where he described seeing one using his likeness, "and it was delivering a message that in no way came from me. So when you think of the potential for scamming people … scamming has always been part of the American scene but … it's going to be the growth industry of all time."

Flashback: Buffett's remarks about AI are in keeping with Berkshire's long-held views about value investing that have led the Oracle of Omaha, and Munger, to be deeply skeptical about buzzy new developments in the economy — especially Bitcoin.

  • At Berkshire's 2023 meeting, Munger said he was "somewhat skeptical of some of the hype that's gone into artificial intelligence … I think old fashioned intelligence works pretty well."
  • In the past, Buffett has warned AI would be "enormously disruptive," but helpful in unlocking economic efficiencies.

The bottom line: It's definitely hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but Buffett hardly stands alone in seeing AI as an existential risk, or that it will eventually surpass human intelligence.

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