Elon Musk and POTUS Candidate Andrew Yang Discuss A.I.'s Dangers on Twitter

It was a fascinating, and not exactly surprising, meeting of the minds.

Robots moving a package around a factory
Boston Dynamics

In an interaction on Wednesday that can only be described as “a lot of tweet,” 2020 long-shot presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, who has made mitigating the consequences of automation-related job displacement the focal point of his campaign, and Elon Musk exchanged ideas on Twitter about our soon-to-be-reality with A.I. technology.

The first tweet, posted by Yang on Wednesday evening, detailed a recent competition held in China that pitted an A.I. system, BioMind, against radiologists in a brain-tumor-diagnosing race. In both rounds, the A.I. system beat trained human professionals in both speed and accuracy. If you just thought, “Oh, yikes,” then you and Yang are very much on the same page.

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“This could do incredible good but is another example of areas in which new technology is capable of beating humans,” Yang wrote. “We have to evolve quickly.”

Musk, whose company SpaceX was gearing up for a historic rocket launch, responded almost immediately with what he says are the three likeliest outcomes for humans in an A.I.-led future: “Symbiosis, irrelevance (hopefully blissful) or doom.”

This is hardly the first time Yang has expressed concern about the unintended consequences of increasingly rapid A.I. advancements. Since the earliest throes of his campaign, the upstate New York-native has run on a platform of universal basic income, which his campaign calls the Freedom Dividend. #HumanityFirst has continued to be a rallying cry for Yang as he continues to shore up support from cities facing waves of production job losses.

Meanwhile, Musk, whose SpaceX Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket, is sent to launch for a second time on April 11, doesn’t seem to be referring to a specific cybernetic interface project. Rather, it’s the idea that a communication platform between A.I. and humans needs to exist, and needs to exist soon.

Though the “doom” statement in particular is, er, a bit ominous, it’s actually a pretty moderate statement for Musk, at least as far as A.I. is concerned. At SXSW 2018, Musk turned heads by saying that being at the cutting edge of A.I. “scares the hell out of me.”

“The rate of improvement is exponential,” he said. “Mark my words: A.I. is far more dangerous than nukes.”

Musk called for greater regulation of A.I. in a 2017 meeting with the National Governors Association; co-signed a letter to the UN urging a ban on killer robots; and helped fund OpenAI, a non-profit organization devoted to investigating how to ensure that A.I. benefits humanity.

It’s a fascinating, if not entirely unsurprising, meeting of the minds. Yang’s surprising rise in opinion polls, as well as his unlikely early qualification for the Democratic National Committee’s debates this summer were credited in no small part to the internet savvy Yang Gang, a coterie of meme-making online supporters. And, of course, we all know Musk loves a good meme. But there’s more to the overlap between the two audiences. Both men made widely viewed appearances on Joe Rogan’s podcast — Musk last September and Yang just a few months ago — and Musk himself has also suggested in the past that he favors UBI.

It would be very surprising if this was the final interaction between the two, assuming Yang’s star continues to rise. 

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