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Elon Musk doesn’t want AI to replace humanity, rather he argues that AI requires humanity to actually be interesting and useful.
In a meandering 90-minute Twitter Spaces audio conference today attended by over 30,000 listeners, the world’s richest man and leader of Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter outlined his goal for his newest venture, xAI. Musk quietly started xAI in April in a bid to formally enter the AI market. With xAI, Musk has assembled an impressive array of experts (most of whom were on the Twitter Spaces conference), with the audacious goal of “understanding the true nature of the universe.”
Understanding the universe, as it turns out, has to do with a lot of AI.
“The overarching goal of xAI is to build a good AGI [artificial general intelligence] with the overarching purpose of just trying to understand the universe,” Musk said.
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Elon Musk outlines what safe AI is all about
The concept of AGI is one that some find frightening as a potential challenge to the superiority of the human species on this planet, or any other.
Musk spent a good deal of time explaining his view of what it takes to build what he referred to as a “super-intelligence” that is safe. It’s an approach that relies on humanity’s survival, not its extinction.
“I think to a super-intelligence, humanity is much more interesting than not [having] humanity,” Musk said. “When you look at the various planets in our solar system, the moons and asteroids, and really probably all of them combined are not as interesting as humanity.”
Musk emphasized that he has spent many years thinking and worrying about AI safety and claims that he has been one of the strongest voices calling for AI regulation and oversight. He also stated that in his view safety can be assured with a process for AI, and the humans who regulate it, to be maximally curious and truth-seeking.
Musk retells the OpenAI origin story as being about AI safety
Elon Musk was one of the cofounders of OpenAI, a fact that he is always eager to bring up in any conversation about AI in recent months.
On his Twitter Space, Musk recounted that he used to be close friends with Google cofounder Larry Page. After Google acquired DeepMind in 2014, Musk said he had a number of conversations with Page about AI safety. Those conversations, according to Musk, didn’t go well, with the two having very different views. As a result, Musk said that he realized there was a need to have what he called a “counterweight” to Google and its influence on AI.
That counterweight was OpenAI. The original goal for OpenAI according to Musk was to be open-source and non-profit.
“Now because fate loves irony, OpenAI is closed-source and frankly voracious for profit,” he said.
Musk’s hope is that xAI will not stray from its founding vision: to help humanity.
Notorious for blown deadlines, Musk says AGI is coming in 2029
Musk stated emphatically that in his view it is clear that AGI is going to happen — and soon.
As such, he realized that he had two choices: be a spectator or a participant. As a participant, he can influence outcomes and be a competitor.
“I think that we can create a competitive alternative that is hopefully better than Google DeepMind, OpenAI or Microsoft,” Musk said.
While Musk didn’t specifically detail how xAI will be able to compete effectively against its rivals, he did outline a specific timeline in which he expects AGI to actually be a viable reality: roughly by 2029.
However, whenever quoting Musk, it is important to point out he has repeatedly stated timelines for other ventures — including SpaceX landing humans on Mars and launching a Tesla robotaxi service for owners to rent out their autonomously-driven cars — that have not been fulfilled.
It’s still early days for xAI and there are a lot of details that are missing. Even with that lack of clarity, Musk said that as the effort progresses he will be open to feedback, which is a lesson he’s learned well with Twitter.
“As with everything, I think we’re very open to critical feedback and welcome that,” Musk said of his AI efforts. “Actually, one of the things that I like about Twitter is that there’s plenty of negative feedback on Twitter, which is helpful for ego compression.”
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