Everyone wants to know Elon Musk's thoughts on everything, so it's no surprise that when Rolling Stone recently sat down with the tech industry icon, the magazine wanted to showcase that insight.
And wow, did Musk give out his thoughts with the same candor and bluntness that he always does.
The interview boiled down to one main question: what are the biggest threats to humanity? Musk's answer was two-fold: climate change and artificial intelligence. While neither of these answers will shock Musk's biggest fans, let's unpack the real-world Tony Stark's thoughts behind both of those answers.
It's an understatement to say Elon Musk understands climate change. He acquired SolarCity solar panels last year while simultaneously developing the Tesla Powerwall battery system to store that solar energy. To prove just how much he knows about solar, Musk even used the system to power an entire island.
Tesla, Hyperloop, SpaceX and the Boring Company all feature key elements of reducing traditional resources used in their respective industries and ultimately creating smarter ways to power our world. The Hyperloop (in essence) is a high-speed bullet train. Each reusable SpaceX rocket saves countless hours of labor and energy expenditures crafting yet another rocket. The Boring Company looks to lower emissions from vehicles by using high-speed underground tunnels to speed along commutes. Tesla continues to be a leader in high-efficiency electric vehicles with the intent of making electric cars the standard.
Musk is passionate about the environment; he gets climate change and its dangers. in 2016, Elon Musk called denying climate science "real fraud," but his answer to Rolling Stone is markedly more aggressive.
"Climate change is the biggest threat that humanity faces this century, except for AI,” Musk said in an interview with Rolling Stone. "I keep telling people this. I hate to be Cassandra here, but it’s all fun and games until somebody loses a fucking eye. This view [of climate change] is shared by almost everyone who’s not crazy in the scientific community."
If there's a topic that will send Elon Musk into a spiraling fit of tweet-inspiring rage, it's AI. Yes, it's always seemed a bit disjointed that a tech industry leader like Musk who uses and develops AI systems would speak out against its dangers. However, Musk's biggest issue doesn't come with the technology itself; it stems from the people who program the AI.
"Between Facebook, Google and Amazon – and arguably Apple, but they seem to care about privacy – they have more information about you than you can remember,” Musk explained to Rolling Stone. “There’s a lot of risk in concentration of power. So if AGI [artificial general intelligence] represents an extreme level of power, should that be controlled by a few people at Google with no oversight?"
Over the past year, Musk's thoughts on AI and call to be proactively cautious has led to a number of other industry leaders publicly disagreeing. (It even led to a now-infamous Twitter spat with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.) However, academic research and concerns support Musk's hesitancies around AI. Studies from MIT and other leading (and engineer-producing) schools have already looked into the effects of unintentionally programming machine learning AIs with human biases and stereotypes. Additionally, AI is already learning how to program and reprogram itself better than the humans who built it.
Love Musk or hate him, the polarizing figure certainly does not make these points lightly.