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Elon Musk Warns U.S. Governors That AI Poses An "Existential Risk" to Humanity

Elon Musk issues a stark warning at the National Governor's Association meeting.

Elon Musk has warned of the threats posed by the advancements in artificial intelligence on numerous occasions. And in a July 15th meeting of the bipartisan National Governor's Association in Rhode Island, he tried to educate the nation’s governors on what he sees as a looming “existential risk” to humanity.


In an interview with Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Musk said that soon robots will be able to do everything better than us, leading to a “lot of job disruption”. Indeed, AI-driven automation has been projected to take over up to half of all jobs, starting in the near future.

But Musk is not just worried about job loss for a large part of the population. He sees a bigger issue, saying that he has “exposure to the most cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned about it.” It will hit us one day that AI has a much darker potential presence in our lives, but “until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react because it seems so ethereal,” suggests Musk.

What can we do about this? As it was the governor’s conference, Musk proposes thinking about regulations.

“AI is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it is too late,” says Musk. [48:55] 

He says the usual regulatory process has worked well enough for things that did not present “a fundamental existential risk to human civilization” which is how he views AI. Car accidents, faulty drugs, airplane crashes, bad food may all harm humans to varying degrees, but they do not present a danger to all of us as a whole.  

In perhaps an unlikely defense of government institutions, Musk sees agencies like EPA and FAA as having necessary regulatory functions. Even the most libertarian, free-market people would be unwilling to get rid of the FAA for fear that a plane manufacturer might feel like cutting corners without supervision, thinks Musk. He also points out that he’s against “overregulation” and finds it “irksome” but with AI, he thinks “we’ve got to get on that” especially as the race to create AI is heating up between a number of companies.

How genuine are Musks's concerns? Some have dismissed them as part of a genius marketing strategy, but stories about Musk say he talks about AI risks even in private. Along with Stephen Hawking, he seems genuinely worried about the future where artificial intelligence is rampant. 

Here’s a compilation of Musk’s comments on AI:

If you want to watch the full conference, including Musk addressing a multitude of other topics, check it out here:

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Jupiter's moon Europa has a huge ocean beneath its sheets of ice.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
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White dwarfs hold key to life in the universe, suggests study

New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.

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NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)
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3 highlights from Penn Jillette's Big Think interview on 2020, cancel culture, and friendship

The renowned magician recently joined Big Think CEO and cofounder Victoria Brown for a wide-ranging discussion.

Big Think Edge
Culture & Religion
  • Penn Jillette is an American magician best known for his work as part of the magic duo Penn and Teller.
  • Jillette has also written eight books, co-hosted the Showtime show "Bullshit," and produced the film "Tim's Vermeer."
  • In the interview, Jillette talks about how libertarianism has been distorted in the U.S., and why the democratization of media hasn't produced a utopia.
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