​Elon Musk: Artificial Intelligence Is an 'Existential Threat' to Humanity

Check out what the SpaceX founder has to say about AI, pentagrams, and HAL 9000.

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Oct 27 2014, 3:25pm

Image: Erik Bjäreholt/YouTube

SpaceX and Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk likened artificial intelligence to a demon being summoned without a plan to control it during a recent talk at MIT. Musk went on to describe AI as the "biggest existential threat there is," making him the latest in a string of tech luminaries—including Stephen Hawking—to warn of impending technological doom brought on by intelligent machines.

During the final moments of the talk's question period, which spanned topics like mining resources on the moon and private corps of astronauts, an audience member asked Musk for his thoughts on artificial intelligence. His response included references to pentagrams, the occult, and HAL 9000 (which, according to Musk, would be a "puppy dog," compared to what we're going to face) which made me go all, "Hell yeah. Nice," while suspiciously eyeing my laptop.

Musk's concerns reflect those currently being made popular by the Future of Humanity Institute's Nick Bostrom, whose new book Musk recently plugged on Twitter. Like Bostrom, Musk appears to believe that computers with human-level intelligence pose a very real threat to humanity's continued existence, since their goals might involve wiping us out if we get in the way. Daniel Dewey, a scientist at the FHI, referred to this as "extinction by side-effect."

Musk's proposed solutions include a regulatory body dedicated to making sure we don't "do something very foolish" with artificial intelligence. Others, like the University of Washington's Ryan Calo, have called for similar oversight commissions regarding the development of intelligent machines.

Whatever your thoughts on the subject, Musk's contribution to the conversation surrounding the risks posed by artificial intelligence is a particularly compelling one, not least because of cool shit like demons and intelligent machines.