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Is A.I. Really a Threat: Elon Musk vs Mark Zuckerberg


Is A.I. Really a Threat: Elon Musk vs Mark Zuckerberg

AI could be the most trending topic of the decade. It is everywhere we turn and advancing at unprecedented speeds. There are fears that AI has the potential to be a civilization-ending entity, where fictional household names such as The Terminator or I, Robot inch closer to reality… However, as with every theory, there is always an opposing one. Many suggest that AI will, in fact, bring on the beginning of a utopian era: an era where leisure time is in abundance and suffering is at a minimum. It is even conceptualised that humans may one day augment themselves with AI, creating a powerful bond between organic and synthetic life. This may sound far-fetched, but we can see our species making leaps and bounds as we speak.

So, how advanced is Artificial Intelligence in the 21st century? Well, self-driving cars are set to change the world in a massive way. Every automobile company is investing billions into the technology, and if they don’t, they will get left behind. Start-ups are creating data management systems, radars, cameras, and other cool tech that can be offered to the highest bidder. And Google, of course, has its own self driving car project, Waymo, which will most likely be sold to car companies, much like what they do with their android operating system for mobile phone manufacturers. So, if Waymo is the Android of self-driving cars, then Tesla is most closely comparable to Apple.

Tesla have developed all their own software and hardware and are currently leading the pack in the electric vehicle and autonomous driving industry. But more on Tesla and Musk in a second. And… what else? Well, only a few years ago, it was predicted that it would take a decade or more before AI could beat top players at the millennia-old game, ‘Go’. But in 2016 ‘Alpha Go’ made headlines by beating Lee Sedol, ranked 2nd in the world. From there, it went from beating the top ‘Go’ player, to being able to beat 50 top players simultaneously. What’s more, just over a year later the completely self-taught AI ‘Alpha Go Zero’ was able to defeat ‘Alpha Go’ with little difficulty. The creators of this AI say that this was an important advancement towards building artificial general intelligence systems, or AGIs. An AGI is an AI with intelligence closer to a human’s lateral thinking, rather than an AI that is built for specific tasks, like playing games with defined and finite rules, such as chess.

Wow, we could be looking at the golden age of AI. But that’s just our opinion. What do the experts think the future will bring? Twenty-seventeen saw two of the biggest tech titans in the world fundamentally disagree on the future of AI. Elon Musk, the visionary CEO of Tesla, Space X, Neuralink, and, until recently, Open AI, and Mark Zuckerberg, creator and CEO of the social media juggernaut Facebook. Musk sits on the more pessimistic side of the AI fence with a general message that we should be absolutely terrified of AI. This may sound strange seeing as Mr Musk is a pioneer in AI advancement. However, just as Frankenstein grew to despise his creation, Musk may be seeing the potential flaws in playing god too. Musk and his cross-industry teams have pushed AI into the realms of sci-fi-like territory. As we mentioned, self-driving cars are set to shake up the automobile industry in ways unseen since we said goodbye to the horse and carriage, and Tesla is at the forefront of this technology. And while Tesla’s cars are not yet capable, or better, allowed of fully autonomous, driver-less transport, they are equipped with the hardware that will eventually allow them to drive without any human input. You won’t even have to tell your car where to go most of the time as the it will gradually learn your schedule. Musk has even boasted that autonomous cars will be the safest mode of transport ever, having the ability to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ in all directions, which is way beyond the regular human capability. Well, self-driving airplanes will probably disagree Something else worth mentioning is that, Elon Musk launched the Falcon 9 rocket for the second time as it had previously used AI to land itself back on Earth. Working so closely with AI and making countless technological break-throughs makes Elon’s stark warning about the ominous nature of AI all the more concerning. He acknowledges this himself. Musk has also warned his fellow AI pioneers that, unless steps are taken to control the speed at which AI is being developed, along with putting regulations in place when developing thinking machines, dangerous things can happen. In fact, we can go as far as in our speculation as saying that artificially intelligent robots will inevitably become our malevolent rulers at best and wipe us out completely at worst. According to Musk, the start of humanity’s decline begins with the fact that robots will be able to do everything better than humans. And, he means everything. Adding to this worrying sentiment, Musk believes that AI has the potential to start a third world war. In fact, it is all within an AI’s capability to gain access to nuclear launch codes, deliver fake data to rival nations and even replicate human speech, all of which could lead to disastrous results. And there is something else that’s a worrying possibility, especially if AI technology is not widely available: it can be weaponized without being fully understood. So, it is not a stretch to think that AI will be the next scientific breakthrough that will be used to destroy. And once this Pandora’s box is open, it won’t be easy to close. You may be thinking, if Musk is so sure that AI could spell the end of civilization, why on earth would he continue to push it further and further. Well, it makes sense that if Musk is at the helm, then he can steer these advancements in the right direction and away from the iceberg which threatens to sink what could be our greatest technological achievement. And if he fails, he is obviously planning on moving humanity to Mars and leaving Earth to the robots.

On the other side of the proverbial fence you have Zuckerberg who, upon hearing Musk’s not so optimistic prophesies, vocally dismissed them, and even called them irresponsible. The CEO of Facebook is also understandably invested in online security, especially after the Cambridge Analytica shenanigans. As Facebook and social media grow faster and bigger, more advanced AI becomes necessary to prevent misbehaviour and various types of discrimination. AI systems that can recognize faces, spot spammers, remove fake accounts, and reduce digital fraud are already in place. Zuckerberg has made it clear that, without AI, humans would not be able to handle digital security to an acceptable level and even now work is constantly being done to improve the AI’s capabilities. Musk and Zuckerberg used social media, interviews and public statements to disavow the other’s opinion. And as is often the case with many scientists and celebrities in an open disagreement with one another, we have to ask who is right? Well, in this case it’s both of them… AND neither of them. The conversation has lulled in recent months because the two Silicon Valley residents took a step back from the discussion and away from the spotlight to focus on other projects (which almost definitely involve AI). That said, AI and its applications haven’t slowed down in the slightest and that’s something to keep in mind. So, should we be preparing for a robot revolution or is this an unnecessary concern which we should ignore, and continue to enjoy the benefits of our automated assistants? While there are a plethora of moral implications surrounding AI, it is unlikely that an AI would have any self-awareness or bad intentions until we develop a general or ‘super’ intelligence.

Right now, AI has the mental capacity of a cockroach, so, as it stands, it needs to have a specific purpose defined by its creator. Although, with this in mind, it’s not a far-reaching thought that in the wrong hands, AI could potentially be world-ending. Nonetheless, AI itself, in its current technological state, bears no moral responsibility; that belongs to the human who designs and controls it. Scary, yes, but we’re often not far from a human, or group of humans, making a questionable decision and causing harm. That said, what Musk is more concerned about is the long term. Where we will be dealing with AGI and it will be out of humanity’s control.

We are somewhat clueless when it comes to how an AGI would think beyond the realms of the human mind and therefore its behaviour is unpredictable. So maybe, Zuckerberg’s almost naïve optimism that AI is humanities greatest hope seems to overlook certain aspects of the long-term that we should be paying attention to. Nevertheless, he is probably correct in that, in the present, AI is enhancing our lives in ways we never thought possible. And you can understand how someone wouldn’t want progress to be stifled by regulations. Consider, for example, that we now have AI that can detect and treat 50 different types of eye disease with 94% accuracy. AI can also translate voice conversations in at least 10 languages, redefining the idea of bringing the world together. So, who knows what it could do for us if we allow progress to continue without barriers? But what does all this tell us? It tells us that neither CEO should be ignored. Zuckerberg is right about the short term, AI is a game changer and using it to our advantage can give us a standard of living only seen in utopian science fiction. However, Musk’s concerns about AI are more than justified: we’re playing with fire and if we don’t put safety measures in place early, we may be looking at a Skynet-like reality sooner than we think.


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