10 times Elon Musk saw doom and gloom in AI; Will xAI save humanity?
In the past, Elon Musk has been vocal about his concerns around AI, saying it will destroy humanity. Now, he has launched his own AI company called xAI. Is it the Twitter chief’s answer to the AI problem?
Ever since the AI wave took over the planet, Twitter chief Elon Musk emerged as one of its most vocal critics. He was the biggest doomsayer of them all. He has called out the unchecked adoption of artificial intelligence and warned that it can destroy our civilization, and even signed a petition that urged business leaders and governments to put a pause on AI development till a comprehensive regulatory framework can be created. But yesterday, July 12, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO announced his own AI company, xAI, to "understand the universe". Does he have a plan to solve the problems created by the “AI demon”?
10 times Elon Musk warned the world about AI
Elon Musk has never shied away from making his opinions known and his Twitter account is his favorite place to talk about it. So, once the AI excitement left Silicon Valley and became a global phenomenon, with businesses left and right jumping to adopt the new technology, Musk came out expressing his concerns about the same.
1. The first time he tweeted against the rise of AI was December 1, 2022, when he used an analogy (with a reference to a Beatles song) to explain the logical bias of artificial intelligence. He said, “There still isn't a good strawberry-picking robot, but researchers are working on it. As they apply AI to maximizing how many strawberries get picked, it might do whatever it takes to get more & more planted, until eventually there are strawberry fields forever”.
2. Just the next day, Musk again took a dig at the lack of regulation within AI space in a tweet where a user expressed their concerns over Neuralink beginning human testing. He said, “Compared to AI, progress with Neuralink will be slow and easy to assess, as there is large regulatory apparatus approving medical devices. There is no regulatory oversight of AI, which is a *major* problem. I've been calling for AI safety regulation for over a decade!”
3. For the rest of the month, he called out OpenAI's ChatGPT multiple times, after it was revealed that the chatbot had a left-leaning political ideology in its early days. In a viral tweet, he said, “There is great danger in training an AI to lie”.
4. In February Microsoft Bing chatbot was made public and in its early days, it behaved erratically, including an incident where it said it wanted to be a human. Musk tweeted a link to the article, and said, “Sounds eerily like the AI in System Shock that goes haywire & kills everyone”.
5. In an interview with Tucker Carlson, Musk said, “AI is more dangerous than, say, mismanaged aircraft design or production maintenance or bad car production, in the sense that it is, it has the potential — however small one may regard that probability, but it is non-trivial — it has the potential of civilization destruction”.
6. When a user called out Musk for being hypocritical and criticizing AI when he cofounded OpenAI (he has since left the company), he replied, “OpenAI was created as an open source (which is why I named it “Open” AI), non-profit company to serve as a counterweight to Google, but now it has become a closed source, maximum-profit company effectively controlled by Microsoft. Not what I intended at all”.
7. The SpaceX CEO continued criticizing OpenAI's GPT model even after changes were made to make the chatbot not respond to any prompts containing discriminatory text towards a race, religion, disability, gender, etc. Calling it a bias, he said, “Rewarding an AI for bias/deception is the path to a dystopian future”.
8. After OpenAI gave an exclusive license to Microsoft for the GPT-3 model, Musk tweeted, “This does seem like the opposite of open. OpenAI is essentially captured by Microsoft”.
9. Highlighting the risks of AI, he even called out a benign dependency on the technology. He tweeted, “Even benign dependency on AI/Automation is dangerous to civilization if taken so far that we eventually forget how the machines work”.
10. Musk revealed he told even Obama about AI regulation. He said, “I saw it (dangers of exponential growth of AI) happening from well before GPT-1, which is why I tried to warn the public for years. The only one on one meeting I ever had with Obama as President I used not to promote Tesla or SpaceX, but to encourage AI regulation”.
The origin of xAI
With all these warnings, one can easily think of Musk as an AI naysayer. However, now, he has started his own AI company. But there is no cognitive dissonance in it, as many have been wondering. He has mentioned multiple times about his desire to start an AI company and the reason he wanted to create it.
On March 30, 2023, replying to a tweet about the right reason to build an AI, Musk said, “AI optimizing for the greatest understanding of the universe might be the right objective. Eliminating or stunting human civilization would reduce understanding”. In a separate interview with Carl Tuckerson, he also said that he might end up calling his AI company ‘TruthGPT', “a maximum truth-seeking AI that tries to understand the nature of the universe”.
In April 2023, when Musk merged Twitter into X Corp, he also registered X.AI Corp as an AI startup, hinting at what is to come.
Attending a Wall Street Journal event afterwards, Musk explained his vision with xAI. He said, “I think there should be a significant third horse in the race here. I don't want to jump the gun here on announcements, but OpenAI has a relationship with Microsoft that seems to work very well ... so it's possible that X.AI and Twitter and Tesla would have something similar”.
How will Musk save humanity?
What it appears to be is that Musk will likely harness the technologies from the stupendously successful SpaceX and Tesla to power the AI models at xAI, and the output will also be shared with Musk's companies to make them more AI capable.
What is xAI's purpose? We do not know much at this point since Musk did not provide any information on what the startup will actually do. However, we found its official website. The website says, “The goal of xAI is to understand the true nature of the universe”, which corroborates his earlier statement on what the purpose of AI should be.
Interestingly, the advisor to the company is Dan Hendrycks who currently serves as the director of the Center for AI Safety. So, it is likely that Musk's new company will attempt to either not delve into territories where it can cause the “destruction of civilization”, or will find a more ethical way to solve the problems in the AI space.
Musk will also be hosting a Twitter Spaces chat on the official xAI Twitter account tomorrow, July 14, where users can meet the team and ask them questions. We should know more about Musk's efforts to save humanity from unregulated AI.