Elon Musk Calls Artificial Intelligence "Summoning the Demon," and That's Not Very Reassuring

Ever worry about artificial intelligence? It's easy to feel overwhelmed by how quickly and totally technology has changed everyone's lives over the last few decades, and the idea that computers could achieve human-like levels of intelligence lends itself pretty well to that feeling. Well, there's at least one titan of the tech development industry who's speaking out forcefully about AI, and it might make you a little nervous — Tesla co-founder Elon Musk called artificial intelligence "summoning the demon" in a talk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Friday. Equating it to someone conjuring a spirit they might not be able to control, Musk claimed that artificial intelligence may be "our biggest existential threat."

In other words, he said a bunch of things which are in no way reassuring. And, possibly, give us all something else to fret about, as though there wasn't enough already. It's not the first time Musk has spoken about what he perceives as the perils of AI, as observed by The Independent — in the past, he's tweeted that he fears artificial intelligence could end up being more dangerous to the world than nuclear weapons. This would probably be considered a radical opinion by most, but his concern seems quite matter-of-fact.

I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.

The fear that a human-made intelligence could eventually come back to bite us isn't a particularly new one, especially not in our entertainment — to this very day, the main pop-cultural touchstone associated with this idea is probably the Terminator films, chronicling humanity's fall into ruin at the hands of the nefarious Skynet.

But as technology advances, and it gets easier and easier to envision genuine new achievements in artificial intelligence, various experts have cautioned of the legitimate risks such innovations could pose. It makes perfect sense why, really — AI is as unforeseeable and unknowable a new frontier in tech as it gets.

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But it's not as if the concern is all about imagined takeovers of humanity by supercomputers. There are enormous practical issues even if things went smoothly, like the impact of artificial intelligence on employment. Speaking to BBC Radio 4 in January, Dr. Stuart Armstrong of Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute sounded that alarm, warning that AI could give way to massive levels of unemployment.

We have some studies looking at to which jobs are the most vulnerable and there are quite a lot of them in logistics, administration, insurance underwriting. Ultimately, huge swaths of jobs are potentially vulnerable to improved artificial intelligence.

It shouldn't come as much surprise that Musk is the public figure issuing these warnings in such dire fashion. After having risen to wealth and prominence as a co-founder of PayPal, Musk has been one of the world's most ambitious and vocal innovators — he's also the founder and CEO of SpaceX, the commercial space flight company, as well as mastermind behind the likely too-good-to-be-true Hyperloop transit system conceptual design.

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