Elon Musk Sounds The Alarm On AI

Elon Musk has warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence again. During Tesla's 2023 Investor Day presentation, one of the company's investors asked Musk about the potential impact AI could have on the company — especially with regard to things like vehicle production. Musk's response edged closer to concern than encouragement.

AI has been around for decades in some form or another, but it has really been hitting the headlines in recent years as the software powering AI becomes more advanced and obvious. Most of the notable AI advancements in recent times have come from OpenAI, a company Musk was previously involved with. Last year, OpenAI launched Dall-E, an AI art generator. Dall-E generates images based on its users' prompts, and its release caused fierce debate about what is considered art, copyrights, and the impact this could have on artists around the globe. Fast forward a few months and ChatGPT has caused similar concerns and debates amongst people who write, teach, and/or code for a living.

Ethical debates around AI haven't just centered on potential job losses and whether a string of code can truly be creative — some people are actually considering the AI's feelings. One of them is a former Google engineer who became convinced the LaMDA AI he was working on was sentient and deserved rights. The engineer, who was later fired by the tech giant, was apparently so convinced by the bot that when it asked him to hire it a lawyer, he obliged. Musk hasn't gone that far down the rabbit hole, but does have some interesting takes on the subject.

Musk is worried about AI

In response to the investor's question, Musk confessed his concerns about AI and suggested regulators and governments intervene to stop the concept from being misused. He said: "I am a little worried about the AI stuff. I think it's something we should be concerned about. I think we need some sort of regulatory authority, or something, that's overseeing AI development and making sure it's operating in the public interest. It's quite dangerous technology, I fear I may have done some things to accelerate it."

However, Musk did acknowledge AI's role at Tesla. The company's cars — and the driver aids that set them apart — are AI-powered. Other Tesla products in the future will also heavily rely on AI. Part of the Investor Day presentation focused on the company's Optimus robot. The robot itself uses the same AI built into Tesla's cars and, according to Musk, it will be capable of learning and solving puzzles by the time Optimus is offered for sale. 

When not considering the ethical side of AI, Musk boasted that Tesla has the most advanced "real-world" artificial intelligence on Earth. Even when pondering AI following the investor's question, Musk backed Tesla's dabbles in the concept, saying: "Some of the AI stuff is just obviously useful, like what we're doing with self-driving. Tesla is doing good things in AI." However, toward the end Musk seemed conflicted, adding: "This one stresses me out, so I don't know what to say about it."

This isn't the first time Musk has spoken out about AI

Musk's recent comments may sound like he is deeply concerned about AI, but they're actually far tamer than some of the takes he's had in recent years. He once claimed that AI was potentially more dangerous than nuclear weapons and has also called for the technology's use in warfare to be banned.

His worries about the potential implications of artificial intelligence led to his early investment in OpenAI. The then-non-profit initially existed to "mitigate the inherent dangers of Artificial Intelligence," and Musk held a place on its board until 2018. Around nine years ago, Musk also warned about something "seriously dangerous" happening in "10 years at most" unless humanity was cautious about AI development. His speech during an MIT event described the concept as "our biggest existential threat" and likened AI development to "summoning a demon." 

While AI hasn't destroyed society, it is worth noting Musk may actually be proven correct within the next 18 months. But if we don't all spend the Christmas after next either dead or fighting off a horde of belligerent machines amongst the ruins of our civilization, we can add it to the list of times Musk got it wrong.