Elon Musk is no quasi-religious figure standing on the corner of a busy city intersection, waving a handmade sign and spewing warnings of impending doom. Elon Musk is a billionaire scientist- the man behind both Tesla Motors and SpaceX. Elon Musk is a technological legend. And when Elon Musk interrupts a meeting between state leaders and warns them of an existential threat to humanity itself? People sit up and pay attention.
Artificial intelligence, whether you’re aware of it or not, fills your day-to-day life. If you use a virtual assistant like Siri or Google Now, you use AI. If you’ve played a video game made in the latter 2000’s, you’ve likely fought or interacted with an AI. Heard of self-driving cars? AI. Even some music-selection assistants operate on AI. The commonality between these technologies? A digital intelligence behind the scenes working to learn and improve itself. Most often, that intelligence is learning about… you.
Elon Musk has previously compared the work with artificial intelligence to summoning demons that are uncontrollable. On Saturday the 15th at the National Governors Association summer meeting, he reiterated his concerns by calling AI a “fundamental risk to the existence of civilization.” He said:
“AI is a rare case where we need to be proactive about regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’s too late.”
Don’t worry. Your Siri or self-driving car won’t be trying to control the destiny of the human race anytime soon. But the artificial intelligence designed by humanity is becoming increasingly complex and intricate, and it increasingly fills our regular lives.
We live in an era where artificially intelligent machines can compose and play music. Where artificially intelligent machines can (literally) beat humans at their own games. Many high-profile people are smacking their foreheads at Elon Musk’s announcement on Saturday, but many more of us should probably be taking notes. It seems likely that Musk, CEO of both Tesla Motors and SpaceX, has access to technology that we’ve only seen in the movies.
Governors and other businessmen can laugh. We’re a little less certain.