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Elon Musk, Man on Fire!

Love him or hate him, he’s one of the men of our time. Under pressure from all sides from Tesla car accidents to his frequent Twitter rants, he polarizes opinions. But do you think he cares?

Photo by Thiébaud Faix on Unsplash

Fading Utopia

Has Elon Musk gone too far with his other-worldly tech utopia of Mars space flight and driverless cars? Some think he has. Whatever your opinion, one thing that we can’t take away from the man is that he’s got balls. He strives to do what many of us only dream about. Okay, I get it. He’s got a few billion in the bank too, which doesn’t hinder his cause of world domination of the stars and artificial intelligence (AI), but cash isn’t everything when you’re under fire for recent tweets highlighting to people having sex in a Tesla car while it’s on autopilot, not to mention the company’s shares dropped by 27 percent in January of this year.

Time to worry for the South-African-born American, perhaps?

Not likely.

Musk is a rare breed of man who doesn’t know when to quit. That’s what’s made him one of the richest and most innovative men on the planet.

He’s an Edison of our age, boldly going where most of us would never end up, and would never try to get to, anyway.

‘There have to be reasons that you get up in the morning and you want to live. Why do you want to live? What’s the point? What inspires you? What do you love about the future? If the future does not include being out there among the stars and being a multi-planet species, I find that incredibly’

— Elon Musk

He’s a non-pessimist when it comes to technology, and he’s just the kind of man we need leading us in the early decades of the 21st century and beyond. He believes, like only two dozen outliers with maniac brains on earth, that tomorrow can be here today.

OpenAI

Still, there’s a caveat to all this positive uproar, one that comes from the man himself. As much as he believes in AI with its promotion through his company Neuralink and all the positive things it can do to enrich our lives in the future, he is well aware of the dangers we could face if we don’t harness its powers correctly. He’s been quoted as calling it ‘the biggest existential threat’ and ‘summoning a demon’. That is partly why he founded and also funds OpenAI, a non-profit artificial intelligence research organization whose motto is: Discovering and enacting the path to safe artificial general intelligence.

Musk’s fears — as many computer scientists and AI specialists — were confirmed in a recent interview when he said:

‘As AI gets probably much smarter than humans, the relative intelligence ratio is probably similar to that between a person and a cat, maybe bigger.’

This realization of the ‘singularity’ by a feline in the intelligence race sounds too much like science fiction because as of yet we’re still having problems dealing with even the most basic of problem-solving tasks that AI computers can deal with — Tesla’s in hot water again with yet another accident caused by one of its driverless cars.

Not good for its reputation or for sales.

Skeptics

The skeptics of this technology, those that believe driver AI cannot anticipate such things as the way a biker moves on the road or distinguishing graffiti from signage on a road sign, foresee a time of basic carnage and one accident after another. These critics stress it will be nay on impossible to teach an AI system these intangibles and that the Singularity of computer AI taking over human intelligence is a non-starter or, at the very least, a very long distance down the road.

‘I do not fear computers. I fear lack of them.’

Isaac Asimov

Musk already realizes the dangers of the Singularity becoming a reality, and is working towards making AI as safe as possible.

However, should we take these warnings seriously? And if so, what can we do to help in the process of assisting Musk et al to do it?

There are innumerable computer scientists, academics and other people interested in the field who advocate more extensive research in AI needs to be carried out before the technology becomes so enmeshed with our lives that it would be difficult to live without it.

Obviously, OpenAI is evidence of a start — but is it enough?

White House Goonies

Furthermore, Musk is asking the US government to take some time to think about the implications of a mass rollout of AI technology, gain insight into it first, then act.

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

However, taking somewhat of a pessimistic stance, he doesn’t see Trump and the White House Goonies doing it. He is also worried about Facebook’s and Google’s DeepMind likely monopoly of AI, and that is why he started OpenAI.

‘Our missile technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five. I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing. Now we’re going to start getting it, because the military has been cut back and depleted so badly by the past administration and by the war in Iraq, which was another disaster.’

— President Trump

Musk, unlike other entrepreneurs and professionals in the AI sphere, sees the potential technology as being very dangerous if it isn’t limited and controlled by the powers that be. In a recent interview, he reiterated the fact there should be a government committee to oversee the development in AI, establish rules working in partnership with industry professionals, which, in turn, will proliferate safety in the development of AI.

Musk’s seemingly pessimistic world-view of AI’s capacity to be bad isn’t that at all, at least on the outset. His negativity emanates from his optimism towards AI’s potential to be the changing force for the good in our world. This dichotomy is what makes him such a fascinating character and probably why he has been so successful.

AI notwithstanding, Tesla’s dramatic drop in share price is another worry, not to mention it has been the worst performer on the Nasdaq 100 this year, with a 42% loss.

Nice Guy

Musk has proven his critics wrong time after time. And what attracts many people to him is his ability to admit when he’s wrong. This show of his human side — unlike other thought leaders and billionaire company moguls I could mention — makes him likable, and trustworthy.

Whatever direction the South African goes with AI, his Tesla cars, the space race or any other business idea he has in mind, there is one thing we can’t take away from the man — he will do things on his terms, whether you, me or any other person on the planet likes it or not.

Now even if he’s a man on fire, under pressure from all sides, I think he’ll come out on the other side with the odd scratch, maybe bruised and battered, too, yet ready and willing to fight for what he believes in.

Well, I think that is surely a life worth living.

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James Dargan

Author & futurist writing about quantum computers, AI, crypto/blockchain. Journalist @ thequantumdaily.com Read my fiction on Amazon or jamesdargan.com