Musk Urges Governors to Act Now on AI for Humanity’s Sake

July 18, 2017 - 3 minutes read

To his most ardent fans, Elon Musk is some kind of tech prophet, a visionary who genuinely believes in the power of technology to solve many of the world’s biggest problems. But Musk has always viewed at least one area of technological growth as potentially dangerous: artificial intelligence. In the recent past, he referred to the burgeoning technology as a “demon,” and he has been increasingly vocal about the threat of artificial general intelligence run amok. Seeing a tech luminary like Musk speak about AI in starkly apocalyptic terms validates the fears of Skynet-fearing IoT app developers as something more than just paranoia. Now he’s taking his concerns to the halls of power.

“AI is a fundamental existential risk for human civilization,” Musk told the nation’s governors at a conference over the weekend. The founder and CEO of SpaceX and Tesla went off on an AI rant after Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada asked a half-joking question about robots taking away jobs. Musk claimed to have seen the latest advances in AI — and what he has seen has apparently scared him. Scared him enough to recommend regulations, something the billionaire generally believes to be an impediment to innovation and progress. (Many IoT app developers theorize that one of the reasons Musk took so long to sever his relations with Trump was that he figured the commander-in-chief would at least strip away many of the regulations hemming in the tech industry.) Musk’s message is surprisingly urgent; as he told the governors, “We need to be proactive about regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’s too late.”

Perhaps Musk’s alarm sounds like hysteria to a lot of Las Vegas IoT app developers, who have more immediate concerns about the unethical uses of machine learning or the effect of automation on the job market. Musk’s anxiety about full AI going rogue may seem like science fiction, but a lot of what the billionaire has accomplished has seemed impossible. He’s taken matters into his own hands, helping to establish the OpenAI initiative, a project that promotes ethically sound open-source AI research. Some have also theorized that his Neuralink venture may be a way to keep the human mind relevant and competitive in a future where AI has gone awry.

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