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Japanese Companies Warn:
AI Can Make Social Order Collapse

Ramon Tomey
Japan’s largest telecommunications firm and the nation’s biggest newspaper called for speedy legislation to restrain generative artificial intelligence (AI) over fears that it could cause democracy and social order to collapse.

Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) and Yomiuri Shimbun Group Holdings (YSGH) issued this call in a manifesto published on April 8. The central government in Tokyo still owns about one-third of NTT, formerly the state-controlled telephone monopoly. Meanwhile, YSGH owns Yomiuri Shimbun – Japan’s most widely read newspaper, which has a morning circulation of about six million copies as per industry figures.

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While the manifesto pointed to the potential benefits of generative AI in improving productivity, it was generally a skeptical view of technology. It stated that AI tools have already begun to damage human dignity, as the tools are sometimes designed to seize users’ attention without regard to morals or accuracy.

The NTT-YSGH document urged the central government in Tokyo to take measures immediately, including laws to protect elections and national security from potential abuse of generative AI. It stressed that unless AI is reined in, “in the worst-case scenario, democracy and social order could collapse, resulting in wars.”

The two entities, who are among Japan’s most influential when it comes to public policy, said their manifesto was motivated by concern over public discourse. They added that their executives have been examining the impact of generative AI since last year in a study group guided by researchers from Keio University in the capital Tokyo.

The manifesto pointed to rising concern among its American allies about the generative AI programs U.S.-based firms have been at the forefront of developing. It also cited a law passed in March 2024 by the European Parliament restricting some uses of AI. Because of this law, Brussels has put itself at the forefront of regulating AI across the globe.

NTT, Yomiuri Shimbun both involved in the AI debate

The European Union’s new law calls on the creators of the most powerful AI models to put them through safety evaluations and notify regulators of serious incidents, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported. It added that the new law will also ban the use of emotion-recognition AI in schools and workplaces.

Similar action has also been observed in Washington, with the Biden administration stepping up oversight. Back in October of last year, it invoked federal powers to compel major AI companies to notify the federal government when developing systems that pose a serious risk to national security.

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“The U.S., the U.K. and Japan have each set up government-led AI safety institutes to help develop AI guidelines,” the WSJ continued. “Still, governments of democratic nations are struggling to figure out how to regulate AI-powered speech, such as social media activity, given constitutional and other protections for free speech.”

For its part, YSGH – through the flagship newspaper – has used its influence about the issue. Yomiuri Shimbun‘s conservative editorial line has had a major say in pushing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to expand military spending and deepen Japan’s alliance with the U.S. under the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his successors.

In the same manner, the outlet’s news pages and editorials frequently highlight concerns about AI. One editorial the newspaper published in December that noted the rush of new AI products coming from U.S. tech companies also highlighted its dangers. “AI models could teach people how to make weapons or spread discriminatory ideas,” the op-ed warned, citing risks from “deepfake” videos of politicians.

Meanwhile, NTT is active in AI research – with its units offering generative AI products to business customers. Last month, it began offering a large-language model dubbed Tsuzumi to business customers. While Tsuzumi is similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, NTT’s version is designed to use less computing power and work better in Japanese-language contexts.

An NTT spokesman said the company works with U.S. tech giants and believes generative AI has valuable uses. However, he stressed his belief that the technology has particular risks if it is used maliciously to manipulate public opinion.

This article was first published in FutureTech.News on April 9, 2024, under the title “Japanese telecommunications giant and major newspaper warn that social order could COLLAPSE in the AI era”

Read more articles by Ramone Tomey here


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Posted April 12, 2024

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