Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg Spar Over How Dangerous AI Really Is
Some experts take issue with Elon Musk’s frightening warning about AI taking over.
One way to develop a reputation as a visionary is to come up with a well-known, startlingly prescient prediction that proves true. Another way is to gain immense wealth and fame through the development of a breakthrough product—say, PayPal—or two—maybe Tesla—or three—SpaceX—and then use your well-funded megaphone to cast prognostications so far and wide and so often that the world comes to simply accept you as someone who sees the future. Even better if you can start a public debate with other famous visionaries, say Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking. This is what Elon Musk has just done at the U.S National Governors Association meeting in July 2017.
Elon Musk (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)
Musk’s comments about artificial intelligence (AI) were startling and alarming, beginning with his assertion that “robots will do everything better than us.” “I have exposure to the most cutting-edge A.I.,” Musk said, “and I think people should be really concerned by it.”
His vision of the potential conflict is outright frightening: “I keep sounding the alarm bell but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react because it seems so ethereal.”
Musk’s pitch to the governors was partly about robots stealing jobs from humans, a concern we’ve covered on Big Think, and partly a Skynet scenario, with an emphasis on humanity’s weak odds of prevailing in the battle on the horizon. His point? ”A.I. is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation [rather] than be reactive."
It was this dire tone that caused Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to take issue with Musk’s position when asked about it in a Facebook Live chat. "I think people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios—I don't understand it," said Zuckerberg. "It's really negative, and in some ways I think it's pretty irresponsible."
Mark Zuckerberg (JUSTIN SULLIVAN)
As CEO of Facebook, Zuckerberg is as cranium-deep into AI as Musk, but has a totally different take on it. “I'm really optimistic. Technology can always be used for good and bad, and you need to be careful about how you build it, and what you build, and how it's going to be used. But people are arguing for slowing down the process of building AI—I just find that really questionable. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that."
Musk tweeted his response.
I've talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2017
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Here's the first evidence to challenge the "fastest sperm" narrative.
Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.
- The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
- Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
- These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.
Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.
A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.
Rethinking humanity's origin story
The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.
David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.
The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.
Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"
He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.
"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."
Migrating out of Africa
In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.
Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.
The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.
The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.
Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.
Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.
Did we head east or south of Eden?
Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.
Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.
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