Elon Musk is working to start up a manned Mars base before 2030, but its first permanent resident may not be human at all. The SpaceX CEO claimed on Thursday that there’s a 30 percent chance the first inhabitant of the red planet could be some sort of artificial superintelligence.
It’s a bold proclamation from the tech entrepreneur, who has regularly called on legislators to take the development of artificial intelligence more seriously. SpaceX has been working on an ambitious timetable to send two Starships to Mars by 2022, laying the groundwork for a further four ships in 2024, two of which will carry the first humans to Mars. Musk stated in November that a Mars colony could take shape in the next seven to 10 years, meaning it could arrive as early as 2025. That would suggest Musk thinks that there’s a chance that an AGI, or an artificial general intelligence, could arrive relatively soon — or that Mars will get its first permanent resident far long after the establishment of a colony.
While an artificial intelligence stationed at a Mars base draws to mind HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, it could serve a more mundane role as a manager for maintenance, aiding in homes like the ones outlined by astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell. NASA has already employed artificial intelligence for its Mars missions in limited roles, using a series of simulations to design new code for the Ciriosity rover that reduces the pressure on its wheels by 20 percent. Software development firm Neurala has also developed software aimed at helping the rover navigate the Martian desert.
There’s a number of cool potential uses for A.I., but Musk is cautious about the development of more general superintelligence. In July 2017, he told American state governors that A.I. is “a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.” Later that year, he called on regulators to act on A.I. fast by referencing Warren G’s 1994 song “Regulate.” His mysterious startup Neuralink is aimed at creating brain-computer interfaces to help create a symbiotic relationship with these machines.
While Musk says the odds are slim that an A.I. will be first to claim Mars as its home, he rates the odds much higher that he will visit Mars in his lifetime. The 47-year-old claimed in November that there’s a 70 percent chance he’ll take the risk and visit Mars himself.
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