Elon Musk: AI poses major threat to humanity

Billionaire says AI was an “existential risk” because humans were faced with something “that is going to be far more intelligent than us”

Despite his fears over the rise of AI, Elon Musk said 'we can aspire to guide it in a direction that's beneficial to humanity'. Reuters
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Artificial intelligence could spell the end of humanity, Elon Musk warned at the world’s first summit on AI safety.

The billionaire said he believes the technology poses an “existential risk” because it will be the first time in history that humans will have faced anything more intelligent than themselves.

He issued the stark warning on Wednesday at the event at Bletchley Park, where British codebreakers, including Alan Turing, used early forms of computer intelligence to break the Enigma code used by the Nazis during the Second World War.

Delegates agreed on a world-first statement – the Bletchley Declaration on AI Safety - which warned of "particular safety risks" at the frontier of general-purpose AI that can perform a wide variety of tasks.

In total, 27 government representatives are attending the summit, including from the UAE, Canada, China, France, Germany, the US and India. US Vice President Kamala Harris made a separate speech in London calling for AI to be used "in service of the public interest" and warning it was capable of both "profound good" and "profound harm".

"I think AI is one of the biggest threats [to humans],” Mr Musk said while attending the summit organised by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

"We have for the first time the situation where we have something that is going to be far smarter than the smartest human.

"We're not stronger or faster than other creatures but we are more intelligent and here we are for the first time, really in human history, with something that is going to be far more intelligent than us.

"It's not clear to me if we can control such a thing but I think we can aspire to guide it in a direction that's beneficial to humanity.

"But I do think it's one of the existential risks that we face and it is potentially the most pressing one if you look at the timescale and rate of advancement – the summit is timely and I applaud the Prime Minister for holding it."

Mr Musk added that he hoped the two-day summit could be used to establish an "international consensus" on insight into AI, so that a "third-party referee" could be established in the sector "who can observe what leading AI companies are doing and at least sound the alarm if they have concerns".

His comments came amid concerns raised by King Charles in a video message opening the two-day summit, who said AI poses opportunities but also "significant risks" that must be addressed urgently.

He likened the "rapid rise of powerful artificial intelligence" to the world's greatest scientific breakthroughs and spoke of its transformational potential.

The AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park - in pictures

In footage recorded at Buckingham Palace before he left for his state visit to Kenya, the king said: "We are witnessing one of the greatest technological leaps in the history of human endeavour.

"The rapid rise of powerful artificial intelligence is considered by many of the greatest thinkers of our age to be no less significant, no less important, than the discovery of electricity, the splitting of the atom, the creation of the worldwide web, or even the harnessing of fire."

He added: "AI holds the potential to completely transform life as we know it to help us better treat, and perhaps even cure, conditions like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's; to hasten our journey towards net zero and realise a new era of potentially limitless clean, green energy – even just to help us make our everyday lives a bit easier.

"However, if we are to realise the untold benefits of AI, then we must work together on combating its significant risks too."

King Charles thanked those attending for laying the foundation for a consensus to ensure "this immensely powerful technology is, indeed, a force for good in this world".

He said transitions such as AI always presented "profound challenges, especially in preparing for unintended consequences".

Earlier, the UK's Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan, said the summit would open the door to a new age of AI.

Bletchley Park - in pictures

Updated: November 01, 2023, 3:37 PM