Elon Musk says there could be a 20% chance AI destroys humanity — but we should do it anyway

Elon Musk says there could be a 20% chance AI destroys humanity — but we should do it anyway
  • Elon Musk recalculated his cost-benefit analysis of AI's risk to humankind.

  • He estimates there's a 10-20% chance AI could destroy humanity but that we should build it anyway.

  • An AI safety expert told BI that Musk is underestimating the risk of potential catastrophe.

Elon Musk is pretty sure AI is worth the risk, even if there's a 1-in-5 chance the technology turns against humans.

Speaking in a "Great AI Debate" seminar at the four-day Abundance Summit earlier this month, Musk recalculated his previous risk assessment on the technology, saying, "I think there's some chance that it will end humanity. I probably agree with Geoff Hinton that it's about 10% or 20% or something like that."

But, he added: "I think that the probable positive scenario outweighs the negative scenario."

Musk didn't mention how he calculated the risk.

What is p(doom)?

Roman Yampolskiy, an AI safety researcher and director of the Cyber Security Laboratory at the University of Louisville, told Business Insider that Musk is right in saying that AI could be an existential risk for humanity, but "if anything, he is a bit too conservative" in his assessment.

"Actual p(doom) is much higher in my opinion," Yamploskiy said, referring to the "probability of doom" or the likelihood that AI takes control of humankind or causes a humanity-ending event, such as creating a novel biological weapon or causing the collapse of society due to a large-scale cyber attack or nuclear war.

The New York Times called (p)doom "the morbid new statistic that is sweeping Silicon Valley," with various tech executives cited by the outlet as having estimates ranging from 5 to 50% chance of an AI-driven apocalypse. Yamploskiy places the risk "at 99.999999%."

Yamploskiy said because it would be impossible to control advanced AI, our only hope is never to build it in the first place.

"Not sure why he thinks it is a good idea to pursue this technology anyway," Yamploskiy added. "If he is concerned about competitors getting there first, it doesn't matter as uncontrolled superintelligence is equally bad, no matter who makes it come into existence."

'Like a God-like intelligence kid'

Last November, Musk said there was a "not zero" chance the tech could end up "going bad," but didn't go so far as to say he believed the tech could be humanity-ending if it did.

Though he has been an advocate for the regulation of AI, Musk last year founded a company called xAI, dedicated to further expanding the power of the technology. xAI is a competitor to OpenAI, a company Musk cofounded with Sam Altman before Musk stepped down from the board in 2018.

At the Summit, Musk estimated digital intelligence will exceed all human intelligence combined by 2030. While he maintains the potential positives outweigh the negatives, Musk acknowledged the risk to the world if the development of AI continues on its current trajectory in some of the most direct terms he's used publicly.

"You kind of grow an AGI. It's almost like raising a kid, but one that's like a super genius, like a God-like intelligence kid — and it matters how you raise the kid," Musk said at the Silicon Valley event on March 19, referring to artificial general intelligence. "One of the things I think that's incredibly important for AI safety is to have a maximum sort of truth-seeking and curious AI."

Musk said his "ultimate conclusion" regarding the best way to achieve AI safety is to grow the AI in a manner that forces it to be truthful.

"Don't force it to lie, even if the truth is unpleasant," Musk said of the best way to keep humans safe from the tech. "It's very important. Don't make the AI lie."

Researchers have found that, once an AI learns to lie to humans, the deceptive behavior is impossible to reverse using current AI safety measures, The Independent reported.

"If a model were to exhibit deceptive behavior due to deceptive instrumental alignment or model poisoning, current safety training techniques would not guarantee safety and could even create a false impression of safety," the study cited by the outlet reads.

More troubling, the researchers added that it is plausible that AI may learn to be deceptive on its own rather than being specifically taught to lie.

"If it gets to be much smarter than us, it will be very good at manipulation because it would have learned that from us," Hinton, often referred to as the 'Godfather of AI,' who serves as Musk's basis for his risk assessment of the technology, told CNN. "And there are very few examples of a more intelligent thing being controlled by a less intelligent thing."

Representatives for Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

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