AI Pioneer Envisions Large Language Models as Interstellar Ambassadors


From Earth to Exoplanet: AI Researcher Floats Idea of Launching Large Language Models into the Cosmos

In a thought-provoking proposal that has captured the imagination of the tech world, renowned AI researcher Andrej Karpathy has suggested that large language models (LLMs) like the one powering ChatGPT could one day be modified to operate in or be transmitted to space, potentially to communicate with extraterrestrial life.

Karpathy, a former research scientist at OpenAI and senior director of AI at Tesla, acknowledged that the idea was "just for fun," but given his influential profile in the field, the proposal may inspire further exploration into the possibility of using advanced AI as interstellar ambassadors.

The key to Karpathy's vision lies in the unique characteristics of LLMs, which he believes could make them well-suited for space-based applications. As the developer of the "llm.c" project, which implements the training process for OpenAI's GPT-2 LLM in pure C, Karpathy has firsthand experience with the streamlined and predictable nature of these AI models.

"LLM training/inference in principle should be super safe - it is just one fixed array of floats, and a single, bounded, well-defined loop of dynamics over it," Karpathy explained to Ars Technica. "There is no need for memory to grow or shrink in undefined ways, for recursion, or anything like that."

This simplicity and predictability, Karpathy suggests, could make LLMs well-suited to meeting the rigorous safety and reliability standards required for space-bound software, akin to the "Power of 10 Rules" adopted by NASA.

Karpathy's two-step plan involves first "hardening" the llm.c codebase to pass these stringent guidelines, effectively certifying the LLM as "space-safe." Once this hurdle is cleared, the model's "weights" – the learned parameters that encode its knowledge – could then be packaged into a binary file and launched into space, serving as a representative of humanity's knowledge and culture.

"I envision it as a sci-fi possibility and something interesting to think about," Karpathy told Ars. "The idea that it is not us that might travel to stars but our AI representatives. Or that the same could be true of other species."

The concept of using LLMs as interstellar ambassadors is not entirely new. In December 2022, University of Vermont robotics professor Josh Bongard tweeted an idea for a sci-fi novel involving sending ChatGPT into space, while software developer Lee Mallon imagined a similar scenario in an October 2023 blog post.

However, Karpathy's proposal, coming from a highly respected figure in the AI community, has added significant weight to the idea. As Ars Technica Senior Space Editor Eric Berger noted, the prospect of LLMs serving as our representatives to extraterrestrial civilizations is both "terrifying" and delicate, given the potential for technical drawbacks and first-contact complexities.

Nevertheless, Karpathy remains optimistic about the possibility, joking that "maybe one day we'll ourselves find LLMs of aliens out there, instead of them directly." He emphasizes the importance of ensuring the code is "really good" to avoid any embarrassing mishaps during interstellar communication.

While Karpathy's proposal may seem like a whimsical thought experiment, it highlights the rapid advancements in AI and the potential for these technologies to play a role in humanity's future exploration of the cosmos. As the space industry continues to evolve, the idea of AI ambassadors traversing the stars may not be as far-fetched as it once seemed.