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Elon Musk Warns Against ‘Demonic’ Artificial Intelligence

Elon Musk, the South Africa-born inventor and entrepreneur best known as the co-founder of PayPal and chief executive of both SpaceX and Tesla Motors, has warned against the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI) , describing it as an “existential threat”.

Speaking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) AeroAstro Centennial Symposium last week, Musk told an interviewer that his recent investments in AI research were made with the intent of “keeping an eye on what’s going on” rather than with the expectation of commercial development.

‘Existential threat’

“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence,” he said. “If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that.”

Musk said there should be “regulatory oversight” of AI research at a national or international level, “just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish”.

He compared the construction of artificial minds to the calling up of unknown forces that could easily go beyond the inventor’s control.

“With artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon,” he said. “You know those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram, and the holy water, and … he’s sure he can control the demon? Doesn’t work out.”

Musk’s SpaceX is developing plans for the colonisation of Mars, and during the interview he alluded to the Hal 9000 AI that wreaks havoc aboard a spacecraft in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“Hal 9000 would be easy. It’s way more complex than that. This would put Hal 9000 to shame,” Musk said.

Vicarious investment

He has previously warned against AI’s dangers, in August tweeting that it is “potentially more dangerous than nukes”. The tweet was in reference to a book by Swedish-born University of Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom titled Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.

Musk in March invested in AI research group Vicarious, which aims to develop a human-like mind based on neural networks. The project has also attracted investment from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and actor Ashton Kutcher.

At the same event, Musk also spoke about how he sees the colonisation of Mars playing a critical role in humanity’s future.

“What matters is being able to establish a self-sustaining civilisation on Mars, and I don’t see anything being done but SpaceX. I don’t see anyone else even trying,” he said.

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Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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