I do not plan on touching this subject with the journalist’s style because the story has been out for some time. Instead, let me clarify his points. Let’s face it, his analogy has some shock factor and it did strike a few people in strange ways. Then again, isn’t that what shock value does? Putting it simply, it’s a wakeup call. It’s meant to jar you into thinking about certain things in a new perspective. So let’s go back to what he originally said at the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium. He said that,
“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.”
Now then, I am going to assume that we have all seen a couple of supernatural horror movies before and we all know what happens in this scenario. If you take away the shock value, Elon Musk is saying that dealing with artificial intelligence (AI) has some extreme risks involved. He is saying that making something like this means that we are dealing with an entity that we do not completely understand. We don’t know what it will do and we can only speculate as to what its potential is. With something like a sentient AI, it will have the ability to make decisions without the need for human intervention. This means that we will end up creating an entity that may have total access to the Internet and, if the military has their hands in it, all satellites and missile siloes that are within reach. If it decides to, it could wipe out humanity. I am not saying this will happen, but there’s a probability that it could.
Now then, there is always that one group of people who take things way too far. I’m mentioning names, but they know who they are. These people do not want any restrictions placed on this entity. They want it to have the ability to do whatever it sees fit, whenever it wants. Now then, I am not the type to view things this way. AI is a tool, like any other device or gadget you have lying around. It is meant to improve the quality of life and make everyday tasks simpler. To me, AI is not some omnipotent deity that should be worshipped. It is a construct that could improve life by assisting researchers with whatever tasks they are attempting to complete.
In my honest opinion, I think having an AI like this can be beneficial. It could increase the amount of scientific discoveries made, allowing for new technologies that could improve the quality of life for everyone. Now, I am not going to jump into the lofty-minded bandwagon. There are risks, especially because humans tend to like messing up good things. All it takes is one clever hacker to corrupt the construct and cause havoc on his/her enemies. This is possible.
All in all, Elon Musk isn’t saying AI or anything else is demonic. He’s saying that we need to know what exactly it is that we’re dealing with. This technology is new, it is young. We haven’t fine-tuned our AI understanding enough to make rational conclusions. So before we start making pariahs out of the cautious ones, let’s take some time to obtain a better understanding as to what we’re dealing with.
* hero image used from: http://www.newsledge.com/elon-musk-warning-us-super-careful-ai-8364