Elon Musk: AI could trigger World War III
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought,” Albert Einstein is attributed as having said. “But World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Einstein was less clear about the causes of war: in his day, it would probably come down to the traditional power currencies of land and money, but Elon Musk thinks it could well be triggered by a race for an all-powerful artificial intelligence.
The tweet – sent at 2.33am local time – came as a direct response to Russian premier Vladimir Putin, who said in a grandiose statement that “artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia but for all humankind”.
“It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”
Musk has been increasingly one-track minded in his recent musings about artificial intelligence. He believes it needs to be regulated pre-emptively because there’s a good chance it will spell the end of humanity. In the short term, he’s been lobbying the United Nations to ban AI-powered killer robots, which seems like a good place to start, but in the long term, he thinks humans should merge with AI if they want to survive.
But his laser focus is interesting because he seems less unnerved by what most observers view as more pressing threats: namely, the increasingly terrifying nuclear standoff between North Korea and the United States. Musk’s view is that any military action involving Kim Jong-un’s secretive state would be short-lived and “would be suicide”. He believes AI is “vastly more risky”.
All that is quite possibly true, but of precious little comfort to those that would likely be affected by such any short-lived nuclear war – those in the US territory of Guam, for example, or those living to the south of Pyongyang. With North Korea boasting that its nuclear arsenal can reach the mainland United States, it probably doesn’t offer much comfort to those on the US coast either, but Musk is clearly somebody who thrives thinking about the long-term future, rather than the here and now. You can read some of his beliefs here – it includes the unorthodox idea that we might all be living in a giant video-game-style simulation.
Image: Steve Jurvetson used under Creative Commons