Musk slams Zuckerberg for his "limited" understanding of AI

Elon Musk smiling
(Image credit: Bigstock)

A battle has erupted over artificial intelligence this week, but rather than a fight pitching humanity against angry robots, it involves two industry titans sniping at each other via social media.

Elon Musk, CEO and founder of Tesla and SpaceX, today slammed Mark Zuckerberg for his "limited" understanding of AI, following comments made by the Facebook boss over the weekend.

The argument began following an interview last week in which Musk reiterated his bleak view of the emerging technology, describing it as an "existential risk to human civilisation" and calling for governments to introduce proactive regulation to ensure it best serves humanity.

"I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don't know how to react, because it seems so ethereal," Musk added.

Later that week, during a Facebook livestream with fans, Zuckerberg labelled those comments as "pretty irresponsible", saying that he remained "optimistic" and couldn't understand why naysayers would "try and drum up these doomsday scenarios".

"In the next five to 10 years, AI is going to deliver so many improvements in the quality of our lives," added Zuckerberg.

A Twitter user then posted a link to Zuckerberg's comments earlier today, which spurred Musk to reply: "I've talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited."

It appears Musk, who claims to have "exposure to the very cutting edge AI", believes Zuckerberg is not qualified to speak on the subject, and maintains that AI will pose a risk to humanity if development is left unchecked. Specifically, he refers to companies racing to beat their competition while failing to adequately consider the potential ramifications of the technology.

No one individual can accurately predict how AI will impact society, yet a public conversation between two of the industry's leading figures is unusual, though numerous tech figures like Bill Gates have spoken out about it previously.

However, what both Zuckerberg and Musk have agreed on is the introduction of a 'universal basic income', a measure to help mitigate any potential disruption caused by AI entering the workplace.

Picture: Bigstock

17/07/2017: Musk: AI is an existential risk to human civilisation

Elon Musk called AI a "fundamental risk to the existence of civilisation" on Saturday, urging governments to take steps to regulate the technology "before it's too late".

At a meeting of the National Governors Association, Musk, known for his tumultuous relationship with AI, reiterated his stance that being proactive when it comes to regulation will be essential for preventing any risks the tech may pose.

"I have exposure to the very cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned about it," said Musk, speaking to attendees at the meeting. "I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don't know how to react, because it seems so ethereal."

"AI is a rare case where 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."

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO believes the current approach to regulation, which often reacts when "a whole bunch of bad things happen", such as self-driving car crashes, is not quick enough to deal with the problems AI poses to society.

"AI is a fundamental existential risk to human civilisation, and I don't think people appreciate that," he added. "There will certainly be a lot of job disruption, as robots will be able to do everything better than us - that includes all of us. It really is the scariest problem for me."

However, not all agree that AI job losses will necessarily be a terrible thing. Accounting firm PwC recently found that global GDP could rise as much as 14% by 2030 as a result of AI, primarily as the technology starts to replace manual labour roles. Though University of Oxford researchers have found that 35% of UK jobs will be at risk of automation over the next two decades.

Musk isn't referring to the type of AI being used by the likes of Google and Microsoft for personal assistants, but rather 'general' AI that is designed to think and reason for a wide range of use cases.

As companies race each other to develop this kind of AI, governments must act as mediators to ensure that the technology is best serving the public, according to the entrepreneur.

Researchers responded to Musk's comments with their own concerns about the tech, specifically how current AI tech can be exploited. Google Brain researcher David Ha said that he was worried that machine learning could be used to "mask unethical human activities", while Francois Chollet, creator of neural platform Keras, argued that "the greatest threat is mass population control" through the use of "propaganda bot armies".

Musk's comments can be watched in the below video at roughly 48 minutes in. He has previously referred to building general AI as "summoning the devil", but is also CEO of NeuraLink, a firm committed to augmenting the human brain with artificial intelligence.

Image: Bigstock

Dale Walker

Dale Walker is the Managing Editor of ITPro, and its sibling sites CloudPro and ChannelPro. Dale has a keen interest in IT regulations, data protection, and cyber security. He spent a number of years reporting for ITPro from numerous domestic and international events, including IBM, Red Hat, Google, and has been a regular reporter for Microsoft's various yearly showcases, including Ignite.