Elon Musk has set out his extraordinary and at-times terrifying vision for an AI-led 21st century where nobody will have to work again with citizens handed a ‘universal high wage’ – but warned that ‘humanoid robots’ could end up ‘chasing’ owners and threatening humanity.
Mr Musk also told Rishi Sunak that robots would become the best friend a human could ever have, remembering every conversation and becoming a ‘magic genie’ capable of granting limitless wishes to their owners.
Sat on a stage with the British PM, the world’s richest man admitted AI would be ‘the most disruptive force in history’ for jobs – ending the need for humans to have one. Mr Sunak disagreed with the vision, saying he believed ‘work gives you meaning’ and claimed that AI would be a ‘co-pilot’ for workers.
‘We will have for the first time something that is smarter than the smartest human. There will come a point where no job is needed. You can have a job if you want to have a job for personal satisfaction but the AI can do everything’, Musk said.
‘One of the challenges in the future will be how do we find meaning in life. Everyone will have access to this magic genie. It will be the best tutor, the most patient tutor’.
But Musk also gave an apocalyptic warning about technology going wrong, saying fairytales rarely end well and admitting there is a threat of Terminator-style robots turning on humanity.
‘A humanoid robot can basically chase you anywhere,’ the tech tycoon said. ‘It’s something we should be quite concerned about. If a robot can follow you anywhere, what if they get a software update one day, and they’re not so friendly any more?’
‘There is a safety concern. At least a car can’t chase you into a building or up a tree’. Mr Sunak then reportedly replied, jokingly: ‘You’re not selling this’.
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, attends an in-conversation event with Tesla and SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk in London, Thursday, November 2, 2023
Mr Musk has said that AI will mean that no human will have to work – but warned robots could turn on their owners
The Prime Minister said ‘we’ve all watched’ movies about robots that end with them being shut off. Mr Musk said that circuit breakers to shut down tech must be set up
Elon Musk laughs during an in-conversation event with British Prime Minister
The PM and the world’s richest man were in conversation at the grand Lancaster House in London
US rapper and singer-songwriter Will.i.am was in the audience
Rishi Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty was also watching on
Founder and CEO of Revolut neobank Nikolay Storonsky (C) attends the conversation event
The world’s richest man arrives at Downing Street yesterday for a meeting with the PM
In an extraordinary chat at Lancaster House last night, it emerged:
- Tesla boss Musk said robots would become so advanced they would end up being best friends with people, remembering every conversation and knowing the human better than they know themselves;
- He said the world would enter ‘an age of abundance’ where no human would have to work. He said: ‘We won’t be on universal basic income; we will be on universal high income’.
- AI tech and humanoids would also improve education, being the ‘best tutor’ and ‘most patient tutor’ someone studying could have;
- But Musk warned of the need for physical off-switches for robots, including circuit breakers in local areas, in case robots went bad;
Mr Musk was interviewed by the Prime Minister in London last night at the end of a two-day AI conference at Bletchley Park, home of Britain’s Second World Ward hero codebreakers including Alan Turing.
The Prime Minister said of the idea that robots could turn on humans that ‘we’ve all watched’ movies about androids that end with the machines being switched off. Mr Musk said there would have to be ‘a local off switch where you say a key word and that puts the robot into a safe state’ in order to protect society.
Mr Sunak also spoke of concerns about an age of generative artificial intelligence spreading disinformation and influencing elections in Britain and around the world. AI tools creating fake photo-realistic images, voice audio and convincing human text is booming and could hit the British General Election, expected in 2024 and the US Presidential Election next November.
Speaking about the dangers of deep fakes, the Prime Minister said: ‘I have already had a situation with a doctored image. Next year we have elections in India, the US, Indonesia, probably here. An enormous proportion of the world population is voting.
‘Next year will be the first time that this has been an issue. It is mission critical to work out how to deal with this.’ He declared that the summit had shown that the world had both the ‘political will and capability’ to control the technology.
Journalists were not allowed to ask questions at the event – including how citizens of a AI-led society would be paid.
Mr Musk said that there would be an ‘abundance’ of opportunities for new services, suggesting this is how cash would be raised.
‘We won’t be on universal basic income, we will be on universal high income,’ he said, adding: ‘It’ll be good for education – it’ll be the best tutor’.
He told the audience at Lancaster House: ‘On balance, AI will be a force for good, most likely’, adding: ‘Often I have to enter a suspension of disbelief, burning the 3am oil, I think: ‘Why am I doing this, I can just wait for the AI to do this’.’.
Mr Sunak’s chat with Musk was viewed as a coup by No 10
Mr Sunak said: ‘I’m someone who believes work gives you meaning’ when Mr Musk said jobs would not be needed
‘There is a need for government to play a role when public safety is at risk. It can be annoying, but having a referee is a good thing,’ Musk said
Rishi Sunak and Elon Musk met in London following the AI summit in Buckinghamshire
Rishi Sunak (L) and US tech entrepreneur Elon Musk (R) attend a conversation event in central London, Britain, 2 November 2023
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (L) shakes hands with X CEO Elon Musk (R) on November 2
Labour MP Karl Turner was criticised for sharing a fake image of Rishi Sunak handing over a badly-poured pint at a brewery, while a concerned bartender pulls a face behind him
Mr Musk also spoke positively about AI’s potential to provide ‘companionship’, declaring a computer or robot could ‘know you better than anyone, perhaps even yourself’.
Artificial intelligence software will be vetted by the security services to prevent ‘misuse’ by terrorists and rogue states, under plans approved by world leaders.
Rishi Sunak led a discussion at yesterday’s AI summit on the introduction of ‘state-backed testing’.
Whitehall sources said the plan would involve testing by agencies including GCHQ and MI5. One insider said: ‘The safety assessment is done by the companies themselves. But they do not have access to the kind of classified material that would allow them to ask the right questions to discover whether this technology can do the really dangerous stuff.’
Mr Sunak said all the leading AI pioneers had agreed to have their new models tested by British and US ‘safety institutes’ before their release to the public.
Chinese ministers were notably excluded from the sessions on national security.
‘You will actually have a great friend,’ he said, adding that one of his sons has ‘some learning disabilities and has trouble making friends’. ‘An AI friend would actually be great for him’, he said.
But Mr Musk said the UK ‘is in a strong position’ on developing robots, praising Dyson in particular.
Mr Musk described ‘a future of abundance where there is no scarcity,’ calling AI a ‘magic genie’. But he then quipped that those fairytales rarely end well.
Mr Musk hailed the Prime Minister’s decision to invite China to the summit.
He said: ‘If China is not on board, it becomes a weird situation. China is willing to participate in AI safety.
‘This is something they care about – having them here was essential.’
The pair agreed that AI had major potential – though Mr Musk warned it should have a physical ‘off switch’ as well as regulation.
‘There is a need for government to play a role when public safety is at risk. It can be annoying, but having a referee is a good thing.
‘AI will be a force for good – most likely – but the chance of it going badly is not zero.’
He had earlier warned that AI poses ‘one of the biggest threats’ to humanity, clashing with Nick Clegg over the extent of the dangers. Speaking at the first day of the summit, the Facebook boss urged governments not to ‘micro-manage’ tech companies.
Mr Sunak hinted that the next General Election will take place in 2024 – rather than January 2025, the latest one could take place. He also said that his two-day event at Bletchley would ‘tip the balance in favour of humanity’.
It came as the Prime Minister announced that leading AI firms had agreed to allow governments to test the safety of their models before they are released.
Mr Sunak, who had earlier warned the threat of AI was similar in scale to pandemics and nuclear wars, said: ‘We can’t expect companies to mark their own homework.’
While admitting ‘binding requirements’ would likely be needed to regulate the technology, Mr Sunak said now was the time to move quickly without laws.
However, he indicated it may need to be put on a statutory footing in the future.