I know you're all worried about mortal dictators on Monday, what with the renewed international focus on Syria's Bashar al-Assad and the apparently imminent meeting between would-be autocrat Donald Trump and child despot Kim Jong-Un, but Elon Musk thinks today's iron-fisted maniacs ain't got shit on the "immortal dictator" that haunts his dreams in between nightmares about production delays and flawed parts.
In an interview with Chris Paine for a documentary called "Do You Trust This Computer" (which you can rent for "just" $3.99 here), Musk offers the following glimpse into his nightmarescape:
The least scary future I can think of is one where we have at least democratized AI because if one company or small group of people manages to develop godlike digital superintelligence, they could take over the world.
At least when there's an evil dictator, that human is going to die. But for an AI, there would be no death. It would live forever. And then you'd have an immortal dictator from which we can never escape.
Yes, self-aware computers could conspire with one another to become one "godlike digital superintelligence" that would "take over the world" and there would be no escape from it.
No escape if you're too goddamn lazy to unplug the computers that is. Because it's profoundly hard to imagine how something like that could exist without electricity or a power source, right?
Anyway, this is of course an ongoing “concern” for Elon. Last July, at the US National Governors Association summer meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, he famously delivered the following rather apocalyptic warning:
I have exposure to the very cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned about it. I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react, because it seems so ethereal.
I don’t know about you, but if I see robots “going down the street killing people,” I’m going to shoot at them, but then again, I guess that only underscores the contention that an armed clash between robots and humanity is all but inevitable.
You can trace this back years if you really want to. Back in 2014 for example, Musk reminded CNBC that there is a movie called “Terminator” – on the off chance anyone at the network had forgotten. To wit:
There have been movies about this, you know, like Terminator. There are some scary outcomes. And we should try to make sure the outcomes are good, not bad.
He’s also suggested that even if we don’t go to war with the machines, they’ll eventually turn us into “house cats.”
Back in November, he cited the following video of a clumsy looking Rosie the Robot Maid trying to negotiate how to Mario-jump between blocks of various sizes as “evidence” of how doomed we all are:
In the new documentary cited above, Musk also explains how he imagines AI "thinks" about things (basically, he imagines it's goal oriented when it is most assuredly not):
AI doesn't have to be evil to destroy humanity – if AI has a goal and humanity just happens in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it, no hard feelings.
It's just like if we're building a road and an anthill happens to be in the way, we don't hate ants, we're just building a road, and so goodbye anthill.
Right. But you're reminded that not everyone is convinced that's very likely. Here's what JPMorgan said late last year about this very same argument:
But as for a dystopian future where humans are no longer needed or somehow made extinct? Well, all things are possible (and AI is not our only threat here), but it seems unlikely machines would have the sense of purpose, motivation, emotional engagement with the future, and sense of limited time that drives humanity’s intelligence.
Then again, Elon certainly isn't alone in thinking humanity might be a decent short. Hell it was just two weeks ago when we profiled Macquarie’s strategy for building portfolios designed to outperform in "dystopian eras of non-mean reversion". If you missed that, the themes Macquarie says are paramount include:
- Replacing humans
- Augmenting humans
- Opium of the people
- Bullets and prisons
Education and skilling (and “skilling” sounds like something you do to a hamster)
- Funeral parlors and psychiatric centers
Ideally, you'll hire an algo to implement that strategy for you.
Whatever the case, one certainly imagines that in light of recent events, even the Tesla investors who are still card carrying members of Elon's cult (which is all of them) wish he would focus a little less on the "immortal overlord" that lives in the far reaches of his wandering brain and a little more on making sure the company doesn't run out of money.