The Tesla and Space X entrepreneur has expressed his fears of the danger malevolent computers could pose to humanity but his statement has been slammed by experts in the field
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From populating Mars to revolutionising the car industry, Elon Musk is not afraid of thinking outside the box. But while he spends his days at the forefront of technological innovation, there is one field that worries the entrepreneur: AI. If left unchecked, he believes smart computers could pose a huge risk to humanity, which is why he spent this weekend telling some of America’s most powerful politicians to halt the rise of the machines.
Speaking at the US National Governors Association summer, Musk said that lawmakers usually get involved after technology has already been developed and something bad has happened. “AI is the rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive,” said Musk. “Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’ll be too late. AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilisation.” He called for the 32 governors to establish a legal framework regulating the speed at which AI is developed. He acknowledged potential pushback from companies developing the tech since “it’s not fun being regulated, it’s pretty irksome” but that it would be akin to traffic or space regulations.
This is not the first time that Musk has stressed his concerns about the rise of the machines: back in 2014 he told students at MIT that AI was humanity’s “biggest existential threat” and later on the same year he warned that the “risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five-year timeframe”. And in 2015 Musk set up the non-profit OpenAI in a bid to hedge humanity’s chances against the new technology.
However, not everyone believes that the Hyperloop co-founder’s fears are justified. After Musk’s speech this weekend several researchers spoke out against his claims. For instance, Pedro Domingos, a professor who works on machine learning at the University of Washington, tweeted: “One word: sigh.” He later told Wired that he and others “have tried to educate [Musk] and others like him about real vs. imaginary dangers of AI but apparently none of it has made a dent”. Instead he urged politicians to worry about how the technology may end up in the hands of a few corporate giants.
Whether or not AI will mean the rise of Skynet, it’s safe to say that the technology will have an impact on society in the years to come.