RobotRepublic — At first glance, it may seem as if Elon Musk is a force for good in AI. He has long warned of existential dangers which AI may bring us and has been proactive in trying to solve them. He started OpenAI, a so-called “non-profit AI research company discovering and enacting the path to safe artificial general intelligence.”
He has even called for the pre-preemptive regulation of AI.
But don’t be tricked. Take a closer look and you’ll see that Elon Musk is most definitely not the person who should be lecturing anyone about the dangers of AI.
For one thing, Elon Musk doesn’t walk the talk. He’s been irresponsibly pushing AI-based autonomous cars into society long before the AI is ready for primetime. And he’s profiting from that rush of market, too.
Secondly, Elon Musk is always going on about his dystopian AI fears, but he has no background or experience on which to base such ill-founded commentary.
And most importantly, those dangers he warns of not only are non-existent and besides the point, but they seriously distract from the very real near and long-term dangers AI entails.
Musk’s bogus alarm is drowning out the real threats AI poses
At last summer’s National Governors Association meeting, Musk showed his hand in a major way.
“I keep sounding the alarm bell,” he said from the podium. “But until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react because it seems so ethereal.”
Oh, the hypocrisy. How quickly he forgets that Musk’s own robots have gone down the street and killed people already. I’m referring, of course, a tragic June 2016 accident in which a Tesla passenger was killed while the vehicle was in its autopilot mode.
And it isn’t the only Tesla crash attributed to Tesla autopilot mode. At last count, two other crashes were reportedly caused by the autopilot facility in Musk’s flagship automobile.
And Tesla and Elon Musk take no responsibility for the accidents, either. In all cases, they turned their blame onto drivers. In one case, there “was no pressure on the steering wheel at the time of the accident.
Tesla’s ridiculous argument is that drivers are required, when on autopilot, to keep their hands on the steering wheel and stay alert – thereby rendering autopilot useless.
And even if it is the case that drivers should stay alert and be ready to takeover the vehicle, Tesla should have considered whether drivers would actually do that in practice — before they ever released such a revolutionary product into the wild. Such concerns are likely why Google and other major players in the nascent segment have been slow to commercially release their autonomous vehicles into the market. Doing otherwise is downright irresponsible, but hey, may be why other major players in the field of autonomous cars have been slow to release consumer products (e.g. Google).
This did not stop Tesla or Elon Musk from pushing ahead. This is because being first to market is good for business. His warnings on the threats of AI put into this context seem more like a marketing ploy than a real concern for human well-being: “Trust my AI, as I am the one warning you about the dangers of AI.” Please.
But Elon Musk seems to care so much about the world. He most definitely talks about the environment a lot. He even left Trump’s advisory council after the US left the Kyoto agreement!
Again, Musk makes a statement when it is aligned with his business interests. Sexually assaulting women, disparaging immigrants, and supporting white supremacists didn’t make him leave. Leaving a non-binding world agreement (one that I very much support) which might mean less money to purchase one of his environment saving batteries is too much for him.
So who are we supposed to listen to about AI if not one of the industry leaders? After all, ElonMusk should know more than the rest of us about AI and is therefore in a better position to know what the dangers are. However, this would be ignoring the fact that Elon Musk is an investor – not an engineer (he does have a BSc in physics).
They do not seem to agree with Musk, one stating that“While there needs to be an open discussion about the societal impacts of A.I. technology, much of Mr. Musk’s oft-repeated concerns seem to focus on the rather far-fetched, super-intelligence take-over scenarios.”
This nod to the need for an open discussion abut the societal impacts of AI is the most pressing issue with regard to listening to Musk about AI. His influence on this discussion is no more than a distraction from existing and near future ethical issues with regard to AI. Issues Musk may not want to engage with considering his financial entanglement with consumer AI.
For RobotRepublic, I’m Scott Robbins.
Cover image: Elon Musk painting collage by Danor Shtruzman using old bookpapers, permanent marker, acrylic and graphic, Wikimedia Commons.