Elon Musk Invested in an A.I. Company Just to Keep Tabs on It

It's a billionaire's version of sleeping with the enemy.

Getty Images / Bill Pugliano

Elon Musk is not a fan of the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence. And that’s to put it mildly. The billionaire entrepreneur, and founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, actually went so far as to invest in an A.I. company just so he could keep an eye on things.

The company was the England-based DeepMind lab, one of the foremost A.I. companies in the world. Just last month it was reported that DeepMind’s A.I. could simulate human behavior. The company was purchased wholesale by Google back in 2014, but before that, Musk was counted among its most high-profile investors. Only, unlike many of his colleagues, Musk’s view of the concept wasn’t — and isn’t — exactly rosy.

“[Investing in DeepMind] gave me more visibility into the rate at which things were improving, and I think they’re really improving at an accelerating rate, far faster than people realize,” Musk recently told Vanity Fair.

In other words, Musk’s DeepMind investment was fueled less by financial or technological interests, and more by his concern about what artificial intelligence will mean for the future of humanity.

Elon Musk and Larry Page’s Relationship Over A.I.

While the revelation that Musk would go to such lengths in order to stay one step ahead of the robots is new, his general disposition towards the idea of A.I. isn’t. He’s made his worries clear in the past, worries about Google specifically. He fears that Larry Page, Google co-founder and CEO of Alphabet (its new parent company), will “produce something evil by accident.”

Page himself has no illusions about the coming power of A.I., saying in a 2014 interview, “therefore, you should presume that someday, we will be able to make machines that can reason, think and do things better than we can.” But to his mind, that’s the way to unlock paths into the future.

Musk’s trepidation when it comes to A.I. makes him an outlier in the tech community, and has been enough to leave a black mark on this otherwise pretty good relationship with Page. The insinuation that your buddy may be unwittingly developing the apocalypse will do that to a relationship.

Elon Musk’s Prediction for A.I.

Insofar as a timeframe is concerned, Musk has said he thinks that “evil” could emerge as soon as 5 to 10 years from now. It’s no wonder, then, that he’d try to get an inside look at how things are going by investing in DeepMind.

As for the general public? Musk has taken notice of its lack of concern on this matter. He went on to tell Vanity Fair that he thinks it’s because “in everyday life, you don’t see robots walking around. Maybe your Roomba or something. But Roombas aren’t going to take over the world.”

Well, we can be thankful for that at least.

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