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There have been numerous debates about a hypothetical future where AI becomes smart beyond humans’ capacity to understand or control it. While most of these conversations are fueled by fiction, the topic has gained significant momentum in the last few years after a list of science and industry notables, including Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, voiced the potential threat smart machines hold.
The reason it is a gripping conversation point is that it can be understood in a lot of different ways. Last year, DeepMind researchers argued in a paper submitted to the peer-reviewed Artificial Intelligence Journal that “reward is enough” to reach general AI, but not everyone agrees. AGI researchers estimate the ‘optimistic’ timeline is 2022, the most realistic is 2040, and the pessimistic is 2075.
Period of optimism, but not for Optimus
The subject of humanoids became the highlight on the internet last week after Musk showed off the long-awaited, much-hyped Tesla Bot Optimus on Tesla Day. Tesla claims Optimus’ AI system is an extension of the technology used in the company’s self-driving cars. Musk has been promising to launch driverless cars since 2014. However, it is 2022 and Tesla cannot fully comprehend the level of security that the cars need yet. But if the 50-year-old Musk’s gambit has made anything clear, it’s that he thrives on contradiction.
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Coming back to Optimus, so how impressed should we be? Most roboticists were underwhelmed. “None of this is cutting edge. Hire some PhDs and go to some robotics conferences @Tesla,” tweeted Cynthia Yeung, a roboticist at Plus One Robotics, which builds software for logistics robots.
Robotics experts shared their thoughts on the internet, and we’ve collected them for you below:
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- Gary Marcus — Author, Rebooting AI
- Georgia Chalvatzaki — Assistant Professor, Technische Universität Darmstadt
- Will Jackson — Founder and CEO, Engineered Arts
- Brandon Rohrer — Machine Learning Engineer, LinkedIn
Musk on record against AI
While Musk has been supportive of the development of AI, warning about the diabolic potential AI holds has been a recurring theme in his comments—often citing a film that came out when he was just 13.
“There have been movies about this, like ‘[The] Terminator’. There are some scary outcomes,” Musk said in 2014.
Shortly after that, Musk called AI development “summoning the demon” but has invested in space “to keep his eye on it”. A month later, he posted on Edge.org that unless one has direct exposure to groups like DeepMind, they have no idea how fast—it [AI] is growing, at a pace close to exponential. According to Musk, in the next five to ten years, something seriously dangerous is bound to occur.
“This is not a case of crying wolf about something I don’t understand. I am not alone in thinking we should be worried. The leading AI companies have taken great steps to ensure safety. They recognise the danger but believe they can shape and control the digital superintelligences and prevent bad ones from escaping into the internet. That remains to be seen,” Musk wrote.
The billionaire entrepreneur doubled down and publicly referred to ‘The Terminator’ again, citing his neurotechnology startup ‘Neuralink’. But this time “as an inspiration”.
In 2019, tech magnate Bill Gates also expressed his views comparing AI to nuclear weapons—calling it “both promising but dangerous”. In the same year, the Tesla CEO claimed that DeepMind, the subsidiary of Google’s parent company ‘Alphabet’, is a “top concern” regarding AI. Furthermore, in an interview with The New York Times, he expressed his view on the destructive nature of AI and referred to it as a plotline of ‘War Games’, a sci-fi thriller film.
Apart from the public comments, the disagreement was visible in 2018 when he stepped down from his role at OpenAI, a non-profit AI research group focused on “ensuring that AGI benefits all of humanity”. Musk was one of the main patrons of OpenAI and cited potential conflicts of interest with Tesla’s own AI endeavours while resigning.
The $100,000 bet
Earlier this year, Musk decided to get into a super-charged Twitter debate about the ability of AI or AGI and how well it can understand or learn intellectual tasks that human beings can process. But, as usual, Musk’s tweets were not necessarily delightful and led to a massive spat between him and other tech leaders on the platform.
In a new post, Gary Marcus, driver of the AGI critique on Twitter, wrote an open letter to Musk, offering to place a US$100,000 bet on whether AGI would appear by 2029. Until now, Marcus has not been terribly impressed with Musk’s comments. But this is not the first time that Elon has demonstrated his doubts about AI and how far-reaching it can be. He has also made several unsubstantiated promises previously too.
Musk is yet to respond to Marcus’ challenge. It’s almost as if he is unsure about his statements now. But, it is quite evident that he has inspired the wrath of certain hard-working scientists who are doing everything they can to ensure that AGI becomes a reality by 2029.
Musk’s Twitter shenanigans
“There is a symbiosis between Elon and the press that annoys many AI researchers, and that is the price the community has to pay,” wrote Cade Metz in his book ‘Genius Makers’.
AI is not the only topic that Musk tweets about controversially. His Twitter page is a gold mine of tweets that would want one to take his phone away.
At the end of last year, on a podcast with Lex Friedman, Musk said that Tesla Bot could develop a personality, taking into account the characteristics and wishes of their owners: “It could develop a personality over a unique time. It’s not like all the robots are the same. That personality could evolve to match the owner, or whatever you want to call it.”
Musk provoked the internet, declaring that his company Tesla might play a role in AGI—especially, with the arrival of ‘Optimus’. One can call this somewhat inadmissible considering the number of warnings Twitterati has issued about the risks that AGI may bring upon humanity.