Elon Musk Believes that Artificial Intelligence is Greater Threat Than North Korea

September 7, 2017
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Lately, the conflict with North Korea has dominated the news. Numerous media outlets have reported that tensions are rising between the United States and North Korea to the point of being on the brink of war. Both countries are threatening military action and the relationship between the two is definitely crumbling. There is one person, however, that believes that this looming threat is not the biggest threat that the world faces. Elon Musk has a very different opinion about what is the biggest threat that mankind faces in the near future. He firmly believes that there will be a war with artificial intelligence that will be a greater threat to the world than the current threat of a nuclear war between the United States and North Korea.

In the last few years, Musk has been very vocal about expressing his concerns about what he believe is an impending war between artificial intelligence and mankind. He has stated that he believes that AI will ultimately take over and make humans obsolete. His comments first went viral in 2014, when Musk spoke at MIT about his thoughts about the future of artificial intelligence. During the speech, he referred to AI as humanity’s “biggest existential threat.” He described what he meant in more detail by saying that, “With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. You know all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and he’s like, yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon? Doesn’t work out.”

In February of 2017, Musk continued to speak out about the dangers of AI and how quickly the field of artificial intelligence has grown over the last few years. He said that at the current rate of advancement made in the field of AI, Musk is predicting that the AI apocalypse is coming sooner than people believe it will. Elon Musk believes that the evolution of artificial intelligence will ultimately take over all typical human jobs. He believes that robots will be able to do everything better than humans and this will create a world where there is no longer a need for humans.

A survey was conducted that asked 352 AI researchers their predictions about the outcome of artificial intelligence in the next 50 years. The results of the survey were very interesting and somewhat frightening. The results stated that there is a 50 percent chance that AI will be able to perform all human tasks better than humans in 45 years, and almost all human jobs will most likely become automated within the next 120 years.

The researchers that responded to survey went into detail about their predictions about the timeline in which AI will overcome most human professions. The survey predicts that by 2024, AI will be able to translate languages better than humans and be able to write high-school level essays better than humans by 2026. Even more amazing, the researchers predict that AI will take over the trucking industry, work in retail by 2031, write books by 2049 and perform surgery by 2053. AI will be able to far surpass the abilities and capabilities of humans putting mankind on track to become jobless and penniless.

Elon Musk has not only raised the alarm about this issue but he has also offered solutions to help combat the imminent threat of obsolescence and unemployment. He thinks that the world governments would have to implement a universal basic income for the millions of people that would become unemployed once AI takes over their jobs. Musk believes that this will begin to happen in the next twenty years. There will be a lot of people around the world that will be jobless and unable to support them and this chain of events will throw the world economy into a disastrous free fall. Musk believes that the governments will have no choice but to implement this universal basic income in order to prevent economic chaos. Some critics say Elon Musk is just selling fear.

A universal basic income (UBI) is a form of social security that would provide all citizens a regular sum of money that come from either the government or another institution that people can use to support themselves and their families. This income would be enough to meet an individual’s basic needs. The amount would be the same for everyone regards of previous income or work status. Different countries and even some states are already considering the idea of implementing a UBI with their citizens. The state of Hawaii has already started to explore implementing a UBI for its citizens based on the fact that tourism and hospitality are two of the sectors that will also be greatly affected by automation.

But for Musk, the problem goes deeper than just unemployment. He believes that people will lose their identity when they lose their careers. For example, many professions in the medical field, like surgery or medical billing, will be taken over by robots. People that have spent a lot of money and many years in school to become doctors will no longer be needed. The psychological ramifications will cause many of those to become despondent and unmoored. Elon Musk claims that, “I think universal basic income will be necessary, but the much harder challenge is: How will people then have meaning?” He elaborates by saying, “A lot of people derive meaning from their employment. If you’re not needed, what is the meaning? Do you feel useless? That is a much harder problem to deal with. How do we ensure the future is a future that we want, that we still like?”

Musk has been hinting at another solution to this problem over the last few months. In typical Musk style, he has been dropping hints about a new company on Twitter. It was finally announced that Musk has created a company that will, according to the website is working at “developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.” The company, which Musk named Neuralink, has already raised $27 million from 12 investors but is very much shrouded in secrecy. The website gives no real details about the mission of the company nor its current status but it is advertising for certain open full-time employment positions for engineers and scientists.

What has been reported about the company seems like a plot out of a science fiction movie. The company is researching and developing the ability to merge the human brain with a computer. According to Musk, humans have already started to evolve into almost a cyborg hybrid. “To some degree, we are already cyborgs,” Musk says. “You think of the digital tools that you have, the applications that you have. You can ask a question and instantly get an answer from Google. You already have a digital tertiary layer. I say ‘tertiary’ because you think of the animal brain or the primal brain, and then the cortex, the thinking brain, and then your digital self as the third layer. Like, if somebody dies, their digital ghost is still around. Their emails and the pictures they posted and their social media, that still lives even if they die.”

Even with these precautions that Musk is already starting to explore and research, he still believes that the artificial intelligence apocalypse will be humanity’s greatest threat unless we start to do something about it now. He has continued to raise awareness by tweeting about dangers of AI over Labor Day weekend. Lately the news has been dominated by what some consider a looming nuclear apocalypse but Musk believes we shouldn’t be as worried about a nuclear holocaust as much as we should be about the AI apocalypse.

Musk’s original tweet in response to the news about tensions rising between North Korea and the United States included a dire prediction of his own. From his Twitter account, he posted that he believes that the current conflict with North Korea, “Should be low on our list of concerns for civilizational existential risk. NK has no entangling alliances that would polarize the world into war.” Instead he believes that World War Three will be started between the countries competing for dominance in the race to create true artificial intelligence.  He then tweeted that, “Competition for AI superiority at national level most likely cause of WW3 imo,” Musk said using the Internet short-hand for “in my opinion.”

His ominous tweets were also in response to a comment that Russian President Vladimir Putin said about the race for artificial intelligence dominance. Putin claims that, “Artificial intelligence is the future not only of Russia but of all of mankind. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Currently, the United States, China and India are the three countries that are making the greatest and most significant strides in creating true artificial intelligence. But it has been reported that Russia is also starting to invest time and resources into creating the complete and true form of artificial intelligence.

It might not even be the governments and leaders of other countries to start world war three, it might be a war that begins due to self-actualization of artificial intelligence. In theory, there will reach a point in the creation of artificial intelligence where the machines will not only take over the jobs of millions but it will also take over the ability to create. It will become self-aware and in that self-awareness, AI will be able to produce more of itself and programs similar to it. Musk tweets that a war, “May be initiated not by the country leaders, but one of the AI’s, if it decides that a prepemptive (sic) strike is most probable path to victory.”

Elon Musk believes that AI will predict and calculate their need for humans and according to Musk; AI will determine that humans are not needed.  That is why it is so important that other company, the tech industry and world governments invest time and resources into learning how to regulate artificial intelligence. Elon Musk has warned that government regulation of artificial intelligence is needed because it’s a “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.” Creating artificial intelligence best practices will ensure that there is a future where humans can control AI and not the other way around.

There are a few industry experts that believe that Musk is sowing the seeds of fear. People like artificial intelligence expert Max Versace, CEO of robotics and computing company Neurala and founding director of the Boston University Neuromorphics Lab, warns that people like Musk are creating unnecessary panic over a situation that has not even happened yet. He believes that it is way to early to ring the alarm and the consequence of these dire warnings could slow down innovation in the field of artificial intelligence. Because the industry is still trying to figure out the exact form artificial intelligence, the need to regulate is null and void. Versace says that, “It’s not appropriate to regulate AI until you know what you’re working on,” says Versace. “AI will not kill us. That’s science fiction.”

Whether the doomsday predictions about AI taking over humans come to pass, Musk believes that it is better to be prepared than caught off guard. He is spending his own time, money and energy investing in something that he believes will help humanity in the decades to come. Elon Musk has had a far share of people who doubt his ideas and his companies and so far, Musk has done a good job of proving them wrong.

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