Elon Musk warns of AI's risks, calls for regulation now

Commentary: Speaking at a meeting of the National Governors Association, Tesla's CEO says AI is the "biggest risk we face as a civilization."

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

 Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

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He's worried about the robot takeover.

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He uses it. He needs it. But he's afraid of it.

That might be a reasonable conclusion from Elon Musk's words, spoken on Saturday to a meeting of the National Governors Association, on the subject of artificial intelligence. (His comments on AI start around the 48-minute mark.)

"I have access to the very most cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned about it," the Tesla and SpaceX CEO said, He described it as "the biggest risk we face as a civilization."

Oddly for someone who drifts toward a libertarian bent, Musk suggested that the best remedy was regulation. Proactive regulation.

"AI is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it's too late," he said.

We can't wait for bad things to happen, he said, as usually happens before regulations come into being.

He added: "AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization, in a way that car accidents, airplane crashes, faulty drugs, or bad food were not." 

Musk, along with Stephen Hawking and many other luminaries, has already warned that AI could be a major threat to us all. 

On Saturday, however, he went further to describe his specific fears about AI. Robots, he said, will be able to do everything better than us.

He believes AI "could start a war by doing fake news and spoofing email accounts and fake press releases, and just by manipulating information." Or, indeed -- as some companies already claim they can do -- by getting people to (appear to) say anything that the machine wants.

Musk didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. He did, though, tell the National Governors Association that we need to start creating regulation "pronto."

Musk's appeal is an interesting one. The tech industry's general attitude toward the law has been to move fast, break it and see whether the law ever catches up. 

Often, too, the law simply hasn't anticipated the sorts of behaviors and issues that technology has instigated.

Indeed, on Saturday, Musk presented the stark commercial realities. He said regulators need to have the power to pause certain AI developments, in order to examine their safety. 

"You kind of need the regulators to do that for all the teams in the game. Otherwise the shareholders will be saying, why aren't you developing AI faster? Because your competitor is," he said. 

Money doesn't care about humanity. Until it's too late, that is.

The mere fact that Musk has sounded such a strong and specific warning shows how dangerous he believes our times really are.