KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM FACEBOOK CEO AND TESLA/SPACEX CEO ELON MUSK’S DEBATE ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)
A debate on Artificial Intelligence (AI) is taking the world by storm. Two persons, right at the centre of the debate, are none other than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Both are considered connoisseurs and frontrunners in the field of this technology. Yet, they have opposing views on AI and its future. The two gentlemen are brands by themselves, so are their companies. While Musk has been compared to Tony Stark aka Iron Man for his numerous ventures, all involving out-of-the-box ideas and unbelievably advanced tech, Zuckerberg has Facebook. Period.
Imagine what happens when two such powerhouses clash over a technology that they both rely on to take forward their businesses. It’s WAR, of words, of ideas, and of beliefs! Musk has adopted a more pessimistic view about the impacts of AI on human lives. His views are more apocalyptic and doomsday-like. Hence, he has called for proactive regulation of artificial intelligence, as he believes AI poses an elemental risk to the existence of human civilisation. Speaking at the National Governors Association meeting in USA few weeks ago, Musk said that the regulations must be proactive and not reactive, due to AI’s unique nature.
His views usher in thoughts of machines taking on the world someday, where humans will be downgraded to mere second-class citizens. Machines with super-intelligence would become the sole decision-makers on Earth. Yes, it is a “Transformers”-like view of the world, which Musk believes is quite possible. His views irked Zuckerberg, who went all-out on Facebook Live, criticising Musk’s views on AI as “irresponsible” and “negative.” Clearly displeased at the remarks, Musk tweeted about how Zuckerberg’s knowledge on AI is “limited.” But Musk and Zuckerberg are not the only experts in the AI field.
Leading scientist Stephen Hawking and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates have reflected similar views like Musk, expressing grave concerns about the potent harmful effects of AI on humans in future. In fact in 2015, Hawking shocked the world when he said that AI could “spell the end of the human race,” during a Q&A session on Reddit. Gates, on the other hand, stated that even though AI would be beneficial in a lot of ways in the beginning, few years down the line and if not managed well, it will be a strong concern. He even went on to say that he sturdily supports Musk’s views and is perplexed how some people are not at all concerned.
Artificial Intelligence will certainly bring in job disruption as robots will be able to do everything better than humans, said Musk. Despite his concerns, there are many other AI experts who have sided with Zuckerberg. Take for example University of Washington’s machine-learning professor Pedro Domingos. In a recent story on Wired, he said, “Many of us have tried to educate him [Elon Musk] and others like him about real vs. imaginary dangers of AI, but apparently none of it has made a dent.” What’s funny about this debate is that both Zuckerberg and Musk are strong AI believers.
This is not the first time that Zuckerberg and Musk has had a fallout. In September 2016, the Facebook CEO got into a deal with Musk’s SpaceX to launch an internet-beaming satellite for Facebook’s Free Basics project in Africa. The Falcon 9 rocket that took off with the AMOS-6 satellite exploded and destroyed everything, making it impossible to deliver Internet connectivity to rural parts of Africa. Zuckerberg posted a scathing tweet on the unfortunate incident.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE — THE GOOD
Zuckerberg said during another interview that AI will be responsible for significantly improving quality of human lives. It is already helping in diagnosing diseases. Musk is investing heavily on self-driving car technology to minimise accidents, one of the leading causes of death for people. AI is a big priority for Facebook now and the CEO is stretching limits to introduce the tech in every Facebook application. The company has also hired one of the pioneers of deep learning Yann LeCun. He is now the AI research chief at Facebook. The AI industry is on a super-growth mode, nearing $23 billion (INR 1.48 lac crore) within 2025.
Here’s a small example of what AI is capable of. Tech giant DeepMind’s AI is so advanced that it recently taught itself to walk and run, albeit in an obstacle-filled virtual space. The super-intelligent entity used its abilities and sensors to incentivise the agent to go from point A to point B. Interestingly, the programmers did not provide specific instructions to use arms and legs. The AI entity learned everything on its own, even complex behaviours of locomotion. The technique it employed was unique and unbelievable to say the least.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE — THE BAD
Artificial Intelligence provides the ultimate ego boost, allowing humans to play God and creating entities that can think for themselves and take decisions on their own. Reports have already surfaced online about certain tech giants developing self-learning softwares and also AI entities that can communicate with each other via their own “secret” language. This kind of a tech is both exciting as well as scary. A company had to shut down an AI engine after they created a language which was impossible for humans to decipher.
The programmers created two robots with different objectives and wanted them to negotiate a deal in English. Their efforts did not bear fruit when the two robots started speaking gibberish. However, it was anything but gibberish. It was a “secret’ language that had its own rules. The robots started to act on this language as the negotiations were considered successful by them.
One thing remains unchanged. Everything has two sides, and technology too can be generally used for both good and evil. Users and developers of AI must be careful about how they use it and what they builds with it. Proactive regulation of AI is important but it is too early to do so. However, Musk sounding the alarm bell means people already have access to cutting-edge AI technologies that can wreak havoc on human civilisation. Perhaps the dangers are not so imaginary anymore though they seem ethereal. AI is an intensely fascinating field because of the tremendous potential it holds. Responsible usage is the key to a better, brighter and more advanced future.