The ethics of advanced AI assistants


Iason Gabriel

publication date



Schwartz Reisman Institute


The development of general-purpose foundation models such as Gemini and GPT-4 has paved the way for increasingly advanced AI assistants. While early assistant technologies, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, used narrow AI to identify and respond to speaker commands, more advanced AI assistants demonstrate greater generality, autonomy and scope of application. They also possess novel capabilities such as summarization, idea generation, planning, memory, and tool-use—skills that will likely develop further as the underlying technology continues to improve.

Advanced AI assistants could be used for a range of productive purposes, including as creative partners, research assistants, educational tutors, digital counsellors, or life planners. However, they could also have a profound effect on society, fundamentally reshaping the way people relate to AI. The development and deployment of advanced assistants therefore requires careful evaluation and foresight. In particular we may want ask:

What might a world populated by advanced AI assistants look like? 

How will people relate to new, more capable, forms of AI that have human-like traits and with which they’re able to converse fluently? 

How might these dynamics play out at a societal level—in a world with millions of AI assistants interacting with one another on their user’s behalf?

This talk will explore a range of ethical and societal questions that arise in the context of assistants, including value alignment and safety, anthropomorphism and human relationships with AI, and questions about collective action, equity, and overall societal impact.

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