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  • Paul Menchaca

Elon Musk is Really, Really Frightened by Artificial Intelligence

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

Suns Tzu, the Art of War

Elon Musk has a pretty well-known phobia of artificial intelligence, holding a fairly dystopian view of how the burgeoning technology will some day overtake the human race.

And now in a new profile of Musk by Maureen Dowd for Vanity Fair, the the depths of the Tesla founder's AI fears are laid bare in a really big way. Musk, Dowd writes, has said that "one reason we needed to colonize Mars—so that we’ll have a bolt-hole if A.I. goes rogue and turns on humanity."

With that in mind, Musk and Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, have started OpenAI, which is "a billion-dollar nonprofit company, to work for safer artificial intelligence."

"(Musk) plans on fighting this with every fiber of his carbon-based being," Dowd writes.

Here are some highlights from the profile.

Musk invested in an AI startup in order to understand where AI was heading.

Before the London-based AI firm DeepMind was bought by Google in 2014, Musk was an investor in the company. Per Dowd:

He told me that his involvement was not about a return on his money but rather to keep a wary eye on the arc of A.I.: “It gave me more visibility into the rate at which things were improving, and I think they’re really improving at an accelerating rate, far faster than people realize.

No really, Musk has a very dystopian view of AI.

Although some of Musk's friends are heavily involved in AI innovation - including Google's Larry Page - he believes they might be unwittingly sewing the seeds of their own obliteration.

In a startling public reproach to his friends and fellow techies, Musk warned that they could be creating the means of their own destruction. He told Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance, the author of the biography Elon Musk, that he was afraid that his friend Larry Page, a co-founder of Google and now the C.E.O. of its parent company, Alphabet, could have perfectly good intentions but still “produce something evil by accident”—including, possibly, “a fleet of artificial intelligence-enhanced robots capable of destroying mankind.”

Musk believes the human race may be able to save itself by having people hardwiring their brains so we can communicate with robots.

This is the point in the article where things start getting really weird.

This Vulcan mind-meld could involve something called a neural lace—an injectable mesh that would literally hardwire your brain to communicate directly with computers.We’re already cyborgs,” Musk told me in February. “Your phone and your computer are extensions of you, but the interface is through finger movements or speech, which are very slow.” With a neural lace inside your skull you would flash data from your brain, wirelessly, to your digital devices or to virtually unlimited computing power in the cloud.

Their disagreements over AI almost cost Musk and Larry Page their friendship.

Although Musk tells Dowd they are now on good terms, he and Larry Page had a brief falling out because their disagreements over artificial intelligence - and whether the innovation was good or evil - got so heated at times.

At times, Musk has expressed concern that Page may be naïve about how A.I. could play out. If Page is inclined toward the philosophy that machines are only as good or bad as the people creating them, Musk firmly disagrees. Some at Google—perhaps annoyed that Musk is, in essence, pointing a finger at them for rushing ahead willy-nilly—dismiss his dystopic take as a cinematic cliché. Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google’s parent company, put it this way: “Robots are invented. Countries arm them. An evil dictator turns the robots on humans, and all humans will be killed. Sounds like a movie to me.”

Some people in Silicon Valley believe Musk's fear mongering over AI is all for show because he knows how much money there is to make in the field.

Not everyone buys that Musk truly believes in all the dystopian rhetoric he's spouting. "Some in Silicon Valley argue that Musk is interested less in saving the world than in buffing his brand, and that he is exploiting a deeply rooted conflict: the one between man and machine, and our fear that the creation will turn against us," Dowd writes. "They gripe that his epic good-versus-evil story line is about luring talent at discount rates and incubating his own A.I. software for cars and rockets."

Also, Musk might be jealous that Page and Google are buying up all the cool AI technology.

Some sniff that Musk is not truly part of the whiteboard culture and that his scary scenarios miss the fact that we are living in a world where it’s hard to get your printer to work. Others chalk up OpenAI, in part, to a case of FOMO: Musk sees his friend Page building new-wave software in a hot field and craves a competing army of coders. As Vance sees it, “Elon wants all the toys that Larry has. They’re like these two superpowers. They’re friends, but there’s a lot of tension in their relationship.”

You can read the whole article here.

Photo: JD Lasica

Their disagreements over AI almost cost Musk and Larry Page their friendship.

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