April 2, 2023

What does the AI boxing problem have to do with startups?

On the pod this week, we chat to the man who thinks AI will leave us "super fucked"

Steph Bailey

2 min read

👉 Listen to Startup Europe on Apple Podcasts
👉 Listen to Startup Europe on Spotify
👉 Other places to listen

This week, on Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast, senior reporter Tim Smith dives further into his conversation with Connor Leahy, the founder of Conjecture who thinks AI will leave us “super, super fucked". The reason? The AI boxing problem. 

What is the AI boxing problem?

The AI boxing problem goes like this: Even if you’re the smartest coder in the world and you make walls around your AI to try and control it, if the AI is smarter than you, it’ll be able to build a ladder that is higher than those walls.


In other words, it’s the idea that you can’t just try to keep AI in, you just have to work on keeping it safe. 

And that’s what Leahy is doing with his startup Conjecture (which may or may not work). It's so far been backed by GitHub’s former CEO Nat Friedman, former machine learning director at Apple Daniel Gross, Tesla’s former head of AI Andrej Karpathy (who also worked as a researcher at DeepMind and OpenAI) and Stripe founders Patrick and John Collison.

Leahy says the problem right now is that we don’t know when we’ll get to the point when the machine becomes more intelligent than us — we could easily be outsmarted. So, we need to understand AI models before we keep making them stronger. 

This fear was corroborated in an open letter this week by Elon Musk and more than 1,000 tech experts calling for a pause on AI.  

Is it just all about the money?

After the article about Leahy’s fears went live, it sparked off questions about fear mongering. One cofounder said “Armageddon clouds” were being used to sell his startup. 

On the podcast, Tim Smith responded to the LinkedIn stir by saying there’s a big chance Leahy’s idea might not work, and Conjecture is for profit to afford the best researchers. It might have to make commercialisable tools like AI transcription software to make money, he added: "He’s really not concerned with making money."

Also on the podcast this week:

Steph Bailey

Steph Bailey is head of content at Sifted. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn