Meta is the latest tech giant to set its sights on artificial general intelligence – a speculative advancement in AI both lauded and criticised for its goal of matching human levels of intelligence.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of social media giant Meta, announced last week the company’s long-term vision is to build artificial general intelligence (AGI).

While this theoretical AI technology has not been realised to date, the common goal of most AGI-developers is to achieve an AI system which can perform intellectual tasks at a level on par with or exceeding humans.

In spite of widespread concerns from ethicists, politicians and AI experts, AGI has been placed as something of a holy grail over recent years, with both Google’s AI department and ChatGPT-founder OpenAI spruiking the speculative technology as a central goal in their AI pursuits.

In a video post on Facebook, Zuckerberg said it had “become clearer” that the next generation of tech services will require “building full general intelligence”.

“Building the best AI assistants, AIs for creators, AIs for businesses and more, that needs advances in every area of AI – from reasoning to planning to coding to memory and other cognitive abilities,” said Zuckerberg.

Meta’s open source approach raises concerns

While Zuckerberg’s announcement places Meta alongside its Big Tech contemporaries in the race for AGI, the company’s vision holds some significant differences to its competitors.

Most notably, Zuckerberg said in order to increase the burgeoning technology’s availability, the company’s plans include making the technology open source – effectively making it available for use and modification among the public.

“This technology is so important, and the opportunities are so great, that we should open source and make it as widely available as we responsibly can so that everyone can benefit,” he said.

AGI has raised concerns for its potential to rapidly upheave technological norms, but Meta’s open-source approach has drawn particular ire from industry professionals for its propensity to put powerful technology in the wrong hands.

UK-based computer scientist and member of the UN’s AI advisory body, Wendy Hall, told The Guardian the prospect of open source AGI was “really very scary”, before lambasting Meta for having even suggested it.

“In the wrong hands, technology like this could do a great deal of harm. It is so irresponsible for a company to suggest it,” she said.

“I think it’s still many years away before such an aspiration can be achieved in any meaningful way, so we have time to put the regulation systems in place.”

During a conversation at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland last week, Meta’s chief AI scientist Yann LeCun lauded the breakneck pace of AI development, before attributing much of its growth directly to the practice of open sourcing.

“The reason why we've seen such a fast progress in AI over the last decade or so is because people practise open research,” said LeCun.

“It makes the entire field accelerate because you have a lot of people working on it.”

In Australia, the federal government recently unveiled its interim response to industry consultation on the responsible use of artificial intelligence – marking some much-needed progress on domestic AI regulation.

While Australia will adopt a risk-based approach in its response to the rapid development of AI – working to prevent high-level risks through mandatory safeguards such as continual audits and independent testing of products – the response also aims to not suppress the technology’s innovation and associated economic benefits.

In addition to pointing out the regulatory challenges inherent to open-sourcing AGI technology, users on social media platform X also levied criticism at the technology’s ethically dubious energy consumption requirements.

“To release open source AGI prior to any legal regulation is suicidal,” wrote user CramescoPC.

“AGI in criminal hands can do a great deal of damage. Not to mention the mega energy consumption.”

Zuckerberg said Meta was building an “absolutely massive amount of infrastructure” to support its open source AGI initiatives, with the company expecting to own almost 600,000 graphics processing units (GPUs) by the end of 2024.

Meta has already released its own AI model, Llama 2, with Zuckerberg further revealing the company is currently training the next iteration, Llama 3.

Meta has not provided a timeframe for its AGI-development plans.