Billionaire AI battle: Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg just can’t agree

Chris Davies - Jul 25, 2017
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Billionaire AI battle: Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg just can’t agree

It’s not quite the “battle of the billionaires” we were hoping for – that would involve more lasers – but Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are sparring over artificial intelligence. The Facebook founder started the spat by criticizing naysayers on AI, and though he didn’t mention Musk by name, the Tesla founder has become one of the most vocal advocates for caution on the topic. That, unsurprisingly, didn’t go down so well.

Zuckerberg’s comments came in the aftermath of a video he shared over the weekend, slow-cooking a brisket on Facebook Live. While he faced several questions about his choice of meat – which, for this particular meal, he claims to have butchered himself – he was also asked for his opinion on artificial intelligence. Specifically, whether he felt some of the more ominous warnings we’ve heard recently are worth paying attention to.

“I watched a recent interview with Elon Musk and his largest fear for future was AI,” viewer Scott Townend wrote. “What are your thoughts on AI & how it could affect networks in a “deep” way?”

Turns out, Zuckerberg has plenty of thoughts on the topic. “I have pretty strong opinions on this. I am optimistic. And I think people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios – I just, I don’t understand it,” he replied. “It’s really negative and in some ways I actually think it is pretty irresponsible.”

For instance, Zuckerberg pointed out, artificial intelligence could make a significant impact on things like road safety as autonomous cars begin to become mainstream. It’ll also be essential, he argued, for advancing medical research. “One of the top causes of death for people is car accidents still and if you can eliminate that with AI,” he highlighted, “that is going to be just a dramatic improvement.”

Although you might assume a technologically-aggressive person like Elon Musk would be all for AI, in actual fact he’s been a conservative voice on the topic. Back in February, he suggested that humanity could face a “usefulness problem” as increasingly powerful artificial intelligences arise. While he’s actually invested in AI projects, such as the OpenAI non-profit, he’s also used that proximity to the latest research to speak out on the possibility that we won’t realize the dangers until it’s too late.

“I have exposure to the very cutting edge AI,” Musk said recently, speaking at the National Governors Association summer meeting, “and I think people should be really concerned about it.” He went on to suggest that, because the concept of an AI without humanity’s interests at heart is so foreign to us, we may not spot the problem until the point where robots are roaming the streets, hunting us down.

Back in 2014, Musk warned that AI could be “summoning the demon”. Speaking in mystical terms, his metaphor was one of finding yourself unable to control unexpectedly dark powers. “In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water,” Musk explained, “it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out”

Zuckerberg, though, believes the moral side is separate, and that the technology is effectively agnostic when it comes to good or evil. “Whenever I hear people saying AI is going to hurt people in the future, I think yeah, you know, technology can generally always be used for good and bad,” he said, “and you need to be careful about how you build it and you need to be careful about what you build, and how it is going to be used.”

On Twitter today, Musk said that he and Zuckerberg have talked about AI. The Facebook exec’s “understanding of the subject is limited,” he countered, though it’s unclear whether he’s referring to a discussion since Zuckerberg’s live video or a prior meeting.


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