Elon Musk is worried about global catastrophe. Not from nuclear fallout, but from artificial intelligence.
This past weekend the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX posted a tweet that warned against the dangers of technologies getting too smart for their own good: "Worth reading Superintelligence by [Nick] Bostrom. We need to be super careful with A.I. Potentially more dangerous than nukes."
The comment was subsequently retweeted and favorited thousands of times.
While it could be easy to dismiss these comments as overly-dramatic or based in an over-indulgence of science fiction, when they come from an inventor and entrepreneur as prominent as Mr. Musk – who has dedicated part of his life's work to colonizing Mars – they carry weight.
The book in question is "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies," by the Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom who frequently discusses such topics as artificial intelligence and transhumanism, or the idea that humans will fundamentally transform themselves through the development of technologies. His book, published last month by Oxford University Press, outlines the idea that as machines become increasingly smarter than humans, they could eventually become more dominant than humans, too.
Musk also recommended a 2013 book by the documentarian James Barrat called "Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era." That book also details the threats that super-intelligent machines could pose to the continued existence of human beings.
Reflecting this sentiment, Musk sent a follow-up tweet that read, "Hope we're not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence. Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable."
Granted, Musk's statements are opinions being made in a field that is, at least for the time being, still heavily rooted in the academic and the theoretical. But as Adario Strange notes in Mashable, given Musk's significant contributions to futuristic industries – which include electric cars, private space flight, and the e-commerce company PayPal – he is likely clued into the latest developments of the technology industry in ways the general public is not. Mr. Strange writes:
The other [question], and perhaps more troubling, is to consider that Musk's comparison of A.I. to nukes is apt. What if Musk, empowered by rare insight from his exclusive perch guiding the very real future of space travel and automobiles, really has an accurate line on the future of A.I.?
It remains to be seen whether or not Musk's warnings of a future reminiscent of films such as "Terminator" or "2001: A Space Odyssey" do wind up holding water. For now, however, the entrepreneur seems to be taking on a personal stake in A.I. As Mashable notes, Musk is investing in an artificial-intelligence research company called Vicarious, which includes as investors Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos.