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Protesters disrupt Sam Altman’s Professor Hawking Fellowship lecture

Protesters hung banners from the balcony and threw flyers into the audience


Sam Altman’s 2023 Professor Hawking fellowship lecture was interrupted by protesters last Wednesday. This occurred on the same day as the signing of the Bletchley Declaration on AI safety by world leaders, acknowledging the existential threat posed by advanced AI systems.

Image credits: Jack Lawrence

Two protesters managed to bypass security and got onto the balcony of the debating chamber from which they hung banners and dropped flyers onto the audience below before being removed by security. 

Protesters gathered outside the Cambridge Union ahead of the talk.

Although Sam Altman seemed relatively unfazed by the action and continued talking, the audience responded by booing the protesters after the flyers, claiming “Sam Altman is causing and risking colossal harm”, were dropped. The flyers also accused OpenAI of stealing artist’s works as well as alleging that the development of AI systems leads to disinformation, a loss of jobs and poses “severe risks and harms to society”.

Gábor Fuisz, the deputy director of the Cambridge AI Safety Hub shared his own opinion. Cambridge AI Safety Hub does not have an official stance on the matter.

He told The Cambridge Tab: “I would not have joined the protest, as I think singling out OpenAI (who while admittedly increasing the race, also did commit to spending 20% of resources on safety) is not productive, if AI technology, including AI chips keep improving regardless.

“That said, developers must be transparent in their messaging that the risks are grave and real, nothing short of literal human extinction in our lifetime and AI takeover. I would advocate for global coordination around slowing down, exhaustive testing of systems and monitoring of AI chips. I also do not endorse disruptive violation of social norms in protesting.”

 

Before the talk began, a small group of protestors also gathered next to the entrance of the Cambridge Union holding signs calling for a stop to the AI race and condemning OpenAI with similar messages as contained on the flyer. The long queue of union members mainly ignored the protestors.

A member of the audience called the small group of protestors “brave” for speaking their mind despite most people not agreeing with them.

OpenAI, Sam Altman and the Cambridge Union have been contacted for comment.