OnInnovation Interview: Elon Musk

Elon Musk wants us to prepare for the worst. The tech entrepreneur recommended a new book released on Tuesday, written by MIT professor Max Tegmark, which tackles the thorny issues of how artificial intelligence will change every aspect of society.

“Worth reading Life 3.0 by @Tegmark,” Musk said on his Twitter page Tuesday. “A.I. will be the best or worst thing ever for humanity, so let’s get it right.”

It’s a key area of focus for Musk, who founded brain-computer interface company Neuralink last year with a view of preparing for these coming changes. Merging biology and machine intelligence, Musk said in an interview about his company, could help humanity avoid a situation where machines dominate, as the two would form a more symbiotic relationship. Neuralink proposes a number of ways to make this happen, from a straightforward brain scanner to a more invasive neural lace.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see why Musk has taken an interest in Tegmark’s work. The researcher, who has frequently spoken about how technology will alter society in the far-flung future, co-founded the Future of Life Institute to study existential threats to humanity. In 2015, Musk donated $10 million to the foundation to support its work.

The book’s description reads:

How can we grow our prosperity through automation without leaving people lacking income or purpose? What career advice should we give today’s kids? How can we make future A.I. systems more robust, so that they do what we want without crashing, malfunctioning or getting hacked? Should we fear an arms race in lethal autonomous weapons? Will machines eventually outsmart us at all tasks, replacing humans on the job market and perhaps altogether? Will A.I. help life flourish like never before or give us more power than we can handle?

What sort of future do you want? This book empowers you to join what may be the most important conversation of our time. It doesn’t shy away from the full range of viewpoints or from the most controversial issues—from superintelligence to meaning, consciousness and the ultimate physical limits on life in the cosmos.

It’s not the first time Musk has recommended this book. In fact, Musk is quoted on the book listing’s editorial review section.

“This is a compelling guide to the challenges and choices in our quest for a great future of life, intelligence and consciousness—on Earth and beyond,” the accolade reads.

But some researchers are growing weary of Musk’s regular warnings about A.I. dominance. François Chollet, a researcher in deep learning for Google, has expressed skepticism about Musk’s position, claiming on Twitter that while machine learning makes some issues worse, it’s “unclear” that it creates any new ones.

Other researchers have been even blunter. When Musk said last month that the technology was a “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization,” University of Washington researcher Pedro Domingos replied with one word: “sigh.”