Developing artificial intelligence is like ‘summoning the demon’ that wipes out humanity, warns Tesla CEO Elon Musk

Thursday, August 13, 2015 by

Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, issued a warning that artificial intelligence (AI) is the single “biggest existential threat” facing humanity. He added that we are “summoning the demon” with AI, meaning we are flirting with forces that we have little, if any, control over.

These remarks coincided with an open letter presented at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires. The letter was signed by over 1,000 scientists and robotic researchers, including intellectual heavyweight champions like Stephen Hawking.

The letter reads: “Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of [autonomous weapons] is — practically if not legally — feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”

Self-reliant weapons

Autonomous weapons are unprecedented. Unlike drones, which are indirectly piloted by a person, autonomous weapons are self-reliant: They can engage targets completely on their own. In addition, the materials used to make autonomous weapons are inexpensive compared to nuclear weapons, meaning they can be mass-produced by military powers across the globe.

A benefit of autonomous robots is that they can reduce military causalities on the battlefield. By using autonomous robots, however, military officials may be less hesitant to go to battle. In other words, as war becomes increasingly indirect and abstract, the odds of waging it increase.

Furthermore, the use of AI weaponry could ignite a global arms race that leads to our own demise. “If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow,” according to the letter.

Autonomous weapons are imminent. The next 30 years will be a time of rapid progress for personal computing. These machines aren’t just a substitute for people, however. They have the potential to rival and surpass humanity in more ways than one.

Robots replacing human workforce

Society is already becoming increasingly dependent on robots for better or for worse. China, for example, is building a manufacturing hub in Dongguan that uses only robots for production. The workforce is expected to be downsized from 1,800 people to 200 people.

According to the Dongguan Economy and Information Technology Bureau, Dongguan has invested 4.2 billion yuan in robots, and is hoping to replace 30,000 workers. “By 2016, up to 1,500 of the city’s industrial enterprises will [begin] replacing humans with robots,” according to the South China Morning Post.

India is also trying to replace the workforce with robots. Wirpro, India’s third-largest IT services firm, is expected to replace 47,000 of its employees with AI systems and robots.

Facebook users could be aiding AI systems whenever they spread information online as well. AI systems feed and learn off of Facebook posts, shares, likes,= and other information that is posted. The more information that is posted, the more AI systems learn.

Musk isn’t the only tech giant to have warned about the dangers of AI. In a Reddit “Ask Me Anything Session,” Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said, “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”

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