Artificial intelligence (AI) is a “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization”, says SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Musk believes that we can’t sit around waiting to see which destructive paths AI may take us along, and insists we need regulation to combat potential threats.

“Normally the way regulations are set up is when a bunch of bad things happen, there’s a public outcry, and after many years a regulatory agency is set up to regulate that industry,” Musk said at the US National Governors Association summer meeting in Providence Rhode Island.

“It takes forever. That, in the past, has been bad but not something which represented a fundamental risk to the existence of civilisation.”

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Musk suggested that when it comes to AI, being reactive is not an option because it will already be too late.

Elon Musk sees the future before we do

Elon Musk has invested in the development of AI, but this investment appears very much to be a better-the-devil-you-know situation.

It’s highly unlikely, of course, that one of the world’s leading tech figures doesn’t believe in technological advancement.

However, Musk seems to be cautioning that we need to know what we’re getting into and be prepared to control it properly.

He says that he has access to the most cutting edge AI, and is in a position to warn people about what’s coming. He can see how the future will look earlier than most people can.

Governors are taking notice

The were 32 United States governors taking part in the meeting, and some if not all of them appeared to take what Elon Musk was saying seriously. Questions following his speech included queries into how he thought AI could be regulated.

The Tesla CEO said that first and foremost we need to “learn as much as possible” and understand the problem.

Elon Musk has voiced AI concerns before
Musk talking at the National Governors Association summer meeting. Source: Brian Snyder/Reuters

This is not the first time that Elon Musk has voiced concerns over AI, or indeed suggested that it might threaten the human race’s very existence.

In 2014, Musk told students at MIT that:

“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful.

“I’m increasingly inclined to think that 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.”

It appears that inclination has grown into conviction, and Musk is now certain that regulation is needed, hence his plea at the recent meeting.

Fake news as a weapon

Elon Musk is not alone in expressing concerns about the future of AI. Stephen Hawking has made similar statements, as has Bill Gates.

Plenty of science fiction has also speculated wildly and entertainingly on how AI may put human existence at risk.

But Elon Musk presented some unusual and very topical suggestions on how the threat may look. The Washington Post quotes Musk as saying that AI “could start a war by doing fake news and spoofing email accounts and fake press releases, and just by manipulating information.”

Mass manipulation of information may not be as cinematic as the sci-fi image of hostile and heavily armed robots, but it could, Musk believes, be just as dangerous.

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