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Who is Right in the Musk & Zuck Square Off on the Future of AI?

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Written By Adeyemi Adetilewa

In a live grilling video in his backyard –on his platform Facebook– Mark, obviously relaxed and happy, answered a question about the future of artificial intelligence (AI) from one of his audience.

As part of his response, he said that “…I think that people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios … I don’t understand it. It’s really negative and in some ways I actually think it’s pretty irresponsible”.

This video has generated a lot of controversy and also over six million views, over 17,000 shares, over 250 thousand comments, and over 480 thousand reactions.

Elon Musk response that “I’ve talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited” has gone further to fuel the controversy on two of the biggest social media, Facebook and Twitter.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)
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Mark Zuckerberg, whose last activity on Twitter was in 2010, has only five tweets and about 172 thousand followers on twitter but very active on Facebook –which is understandable.

Elon Musk on the other hand is very much active on Twitter with over 3,299 tweets and 10.6 million followers obviously. His response to a tweet by Daniel Cunningham (@dcunni) and Silicon Valley Biz Journal (@SVbizjournal) has over 29,000 likes and 7000 retweets. Elon is not active on Facebook.

But Facebook–which is the “middle name” of Mark–has over 2 billion users, which is huge and means a lot to this conversation. Mark is connecting the world. Musk is connecting techies and those who are basically interested in what he does.

Musk is obviously a smart guy. And Mark is obviously not dumb. They both take massive actions in what they believe in. They are both tech billionaires and also big advocates of AI. But when one of these men calls the other out openly on their views about a technology that is currently revolutionizing the world, then we need to talk openly about it.

But who is right on the future of AI?

Mark is young, emotional and optimistic about the future. He has a young daughter, expecting another baby with his wife, and also wants to build a better world. Not for his kids alone, but for everyone. This, he has demonstrated several times by his various projects especially with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. His projects are all about hope.

Facebook has invested a lot of time, money, and research into artificial intelligence and its uses. Mark is very optimistic about the advancement of AI because of its benefits to humanity—and to some extent his business. Can we now say that he has limited understanding of AI? I don’t think so.

Elon Musk has started and invested into many tech companies which uses AI technology in one way or the other — Tesla, Solar City, Space X, etc. He is also is the founder of OpenAI, a non-profit artificial intelligence research company that promotes the development of friendly AI to benefit humanity as a whole.

So, it is by default assumed that he should be right when he said that Mark has limited knowledge of AI. At the same time, Musk considers AI as “the greatest risk we face as a civilization”.

Okay. AI is futuristic but it poses real and immediate problems. Agreed. His fears are understandable as it takes only a man who has seen what others have not seen to make bold statements like this: “I have exposure to the very cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned about it”. After all, he owns an AI company. But is he right? Maybe. Maybe not. Only time will tell.

To some extent, these two tech billionaires are experts on AI. But what are the other experts saying about AI? What are their predictions on the future of AI?

In the past, Stephen Hawking has warned that artificial intelligence could be the end of mankind. And this is coming from a man who is using the basic forms of AI technology to communicate, write, and live every day.

Obviously, AI has a lot of uses and benefits to humanity. AI is very useful in communication, education, medicine, transportation, and virtually in all sectors.

Companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Uber, Tesla, and others are using this technology every day. All these prospects are exciting. These are the benefits of AI and machine learning (ML) that Mark is referring to. And it rightly justifies his optimism about the future of AI.

But, AI is more than this. AI is evolving at a very fast pace even more than we know. As AI is creating new jobs almost every day, some people are also afraid that the development of AI could mean loss of traditional jobs, privacy, bias, and responsibility. This is understandable. Change is constant. We either evolve or get left behind.

But, these fears are nothing compared to that of Musk and people like Prof Stephen Hawking who use different forms of AI every day to make their lives –and our lives– less stressful. The fear is no longer that of the unknown. It’s a known fear. The fear of a greater intelligence. The fear of control. The fear of freedom.

In one of his interviews on the subject of AI, Prof Hawking said that AI has the potential to be independent of humans in the future and redesign itself. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

This is exactly what I think Musk is also afraid of and is being very much vocal about. His solution is for government to be proactive and not reactive in regulating the use of AI technology.

Mark probably also have these fears too but chose not to be vocal about them publicly. Maybe. Maybe not. But, it is good to always know that as much as AI is useful to the human race, it also have the potential to be very dangerous.

One thing is clear here. To deeply understand the problems of AI and their solutions, we have to learn as much as we can about this technology. It doesn’t matter who is right or who is wrong. AI technology — whether good or bad — affects us all. And the earlier we start learning about AI, the better.

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