AI Could Spark Wars Unless Legislators Act Now, Warns Elon Musk

Elon Musk
Elon Musk speaks during an event in Fremont, California, September 29, 2015. Justin Sullivan/Getty

Entrepreneur and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has issued a stark warning about Artificial Intelligence (AI), calling it the "the greatest risk we face as a civilization."

Speaking at the National Governor's Association Saturday, Musk called on legislators to take heed of the danger and act.

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Tesla Chief Executive, Elon Musk enters the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

"AI's a rare case where we need to be proactive in regulation, instead of reactive. Because by the time we are reactive with AI regulation, it's too late," Musk said, as quoted by Fortune magazine.

"AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization, in a way that car accidents, airplane crashes, faulty drugs, or bad food were not."

Musk has long warned of the dangers posed by AI, signing a letter published by the Future of Life Institute in January supporting the Asilomar AI Principles to ensure the development of artificial intelligence that is beneficial to humanity.

Musk went on to say that the introduction of broad government measures was necessary, because marketplace pressures would make widespread adoption of AI by companies inevitable, pushing the technology into risky territory.

Part of Musk's concern stems from the social destabilization that he believes could result from robots replacing humans in jobs. "When I say everything, the robots will do everything, bar nothing," he said.

He also warned of robots becoming incentivised to harm humans.

"[They] could start a war by doing fake news and spoofing email accounts and fake press releases, and just by manipulating information," he said. "The pen is mightier than the sword."

Interviewed by filmmaker Werner Herzgog in 2016 for his film Lo and Behold, Musk outlined an example of how an AI could wreak destruction even if it adhered to its programming.

"If [its programming] is not well thought out – even if its intent is benign – it could have quite a bad outcome," Musk said.

"If you were a hedge fund or private equity fund and you said: 'Well, all I want my AI to do is maximize the value of my portfolio,' then the AI could decide, well, the best way to do that is to short consumer stocks, go long defense stocks, and start a war."

Musk's views contrast with those of his PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who has played down the risk.

"I'm against overregulation for sure," Musk emphasized at the event, "But man, I think with we've got to get on that with AI, pronto."