How often has this happened?
A new deep dive into the history of OpenAI includes some surprising details about one of the firm's erstwhile cofounders, Elon Musk — including that he was apparently dumbfounded when another would-be artificial intelligence guru pointed out a basic flaw in his much-hyped plan to colonize to Mars.
As the New York Times reports based on dozens of insider interviews, Google DeepMind cofounder Demis Hassabis and Musk began talking about the Red Planet soon after they first met in 2012 at a conference that their shared investor had organized, PayPal's infamous founder Peter Thiel.
Hassabis was, per the NYT's retelling, very skilled at convincing rich men to fund his dream of creating artificial general intelligence (AGI), and his interaction with Musk was no different. During a tour of SpaceX's headquarters, the South African-born billionaire began bragging about his plans to take humanity to Mars to escape global overpopulation and the other issues facing our planet — and Hassabis agreed, with one caveat: if AI surpassed human intelligence, it could easily follow us off-planet and kill us there, too.
Musk was, per the NYT's reporting, "speechless" — apparently having not considered that Earthbound problems could simply follow humans to Mars. Soon after, he invested in DeepMind, though years later, he ended up trashing the firm in the same newspaper, calling it his "top concern" when it came to AI.
"Just the nature of the AI that they’re building is one that crushes all humans at all games," Musk told the Times' Maureen Dowd back in 2020, referencing the firm's early innovation in AI that can outplay humans at old-school video games. "I mean, it’s basically the plotline in 'War Games.'"
The exchange, which Hassabis also recounted to Musk biographer Walter Isaacson, is surprising not only because it's hilarious to imagine the notorious tycoon at a loss for words, but also because it shows yet another hole in his longstanding pipe dream to colonize Mars.
While it's certainly optimistic to hope for a reprieve from suffering on Earth found on the Red Planet, there's no reason things like viruses or killer robots or nuclear war couldn't simply join us on our planetary neighbor — and in 2012, at least, Musk had apparently never considered that possibility.
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