Elon Musk is 'exactly wrong' on AI, says Google's Eric Schmidt

The Alphabet chairman doesn't mince his words. Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, is slightly more sympathetic toward Musk.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
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Eric Schmidt has only good things to say about the future of AI.

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Elon Musk is not a man who's short of opinions, but some of his opinions are less popular than others.

For instance, the Tesla, SpaceX and Boring Co. chief's thoughts on AI -- including, among other dark predictions, that it may spark World War III -- aren't necessarily shared by his fellow Silicon Valley CEOs.

"I think Elon is exactly wrong" about artificial intelligence, Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt said Friday at the VivaTech conference in Paris. "He is concerned about the possible misuse of this technology and I am too," but Schmidt said he himself is more convinced by the "overwhelming benefit" of AI.

Schmidt went on to discuss all the ways AI will benefit humanity, in health, education and economic and social systems. AI will make people smarter, he said, and overwhelmingly this will be a "net gain."

It seems every major tech company is investing heavily in AI, making Musk one of the few Silicon Valley VIPs warning against its evolution. Even though the tech industry is examining the ethics of AI and making attempts to keep bias from creeping into algorithms, the general consensus, reflected by Schmidt's own feelings, is that broadly the technology is a force for good.

Schmidt's remarks came in response to a question by Maurice Levy, CEO of advertising company Publicis. On Thursday evening at the show, Levy also questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about AI. Zuckerberg's response was markedly more measured.

"I've heard Elon making a lot of the same points ... I've been making for a long time," he said, sympathising with the difficult task Musk is tackling in trying to train self-driving cars to avoid traffic accidents. But Zuckerberg also expressed optimism regarding AI.

"We need to make sure that we don't get too negative on this stuff," he said. "It's too easy for people to point to one failure in technology and use that to slow down progress ... Fundamentally, I think AI is going to unlock so much good."

In the session prior to Schmidt's at VivaTech on Friday, the head of Facebook's AI research division, Yann Lecun, said he thought building machines that are more intelligent than humans is possible but that it isn't something we should be worried about. First, Lecun said, it's probably a long way off. Second, he doesn't necessarily think intelligent machines will want to dominate humanity.

"I don't think there is a strong positive correlation between intelligence and the desire to dominate," said Lecun. Humans have a desire to dominate because we are social animals, he added, but the same isn't true for machines.

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