Elon Musk Donates $10M to Abort the Machine Overlords

The Future of Life Institute announced that technology inventor Elon Musk, creator of Tesla and SpaceX, has decided to donate $10M to the Future of Life Institute to run a global research program aimed at keeping Artificial Intelligence (AI) beneficial to humanity.

Many leading AI-researchers have signed an open letter calling for research aimed at ensuring that AI systems are robust and beneficial, doing what we want them to do. Musk’s donation aims to support precisely this type of research. He said:

Here are all these leading AI researchers saying that AI safety is important. I agree with them, so I’m today committing $10M to support research aimed at keeping AI beneficial for humanity.

Also read: Research Priorities for Artificial Intelligence – Open Letter

Demis Hassabis, Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman, co-founders of DeepMind Technologies, which was recently acquired by Google, said:

Dramatic advances in artificial intelligence are opening up a range of exciting new applications. With these newfound powers comes increased responsibility. Elon’s generous donation will support researchers as they investigate the safe and ethical use of artificial intelligence, laying foundations that will have far reaching societal impacts as these technologies continue to progress.

The $10M program will be administered by the Future of Life Institute (FLI), whose mission is to catalyze and support research and initiatives for safeguarding life and developing optimistic visions of the future, including positive ways for humanity to steer its own course considering new technologies and challenges. The Institute received seed funding from Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn and Matt Wage.

The Coming Machine Overlords

elon musk face
Elon Musk

After the publication of Oxford philosopher Bostrom’s book about the dangers of “superintelligent” AI, Musk expressed fears about the future of AI. In August, he tweeted that artificial intelligence could be more dangerous than nuclear weapons and in October, likened it to “summoning a demon.” Cosmologist Stephen Hawking told the BBC in December that AI could “spell the end of the human race.”

Musk’s generous donation has been reported by several international media outlets, including the Washington Post with an article titled “Elon Musk’s fear of Terminators just netted researchers $10 million.”  In a less sensationalist storyPopular Science notes that Terminators and superintelligent AIs are not even mentioned in the FLI open letter that, on the contrary, presents a sober and remarkably even-handed look at how AI researchers can maximize the potential of this technology. Popular Science points the finger at the often sensationalist attitude of the popular tech press:

Affixing a headline that conjures visions of skeletal androids stomping human skulls underfoot turns complex, transformative technology into a carnival sideshow.

I don’t entirely agree, because a strong title with suggestive word pictures is often what makes people read a story about important things, which they wouldn’t read otherwise. How do you like my title?

Though the FLI letter is open for the public to sign, I didn’t sign it because I think that important progress in AI, including the development of smarter-than-human AI and superintelligence, can only emerge from free, spontaneous and unconstrained research. I don’t disagree with the open letter or the attached research priorities document, but setting common priorities is not the aspect of AI research that I find more interesting at this moment – I prefer to let a thousand flowers bloom.

Superintelligence doomsday predictions and scenarios have been around for a long time. I never found them too worrisome, because I imagine a co-evolution of humanity and technology, with humans enhanced by synthetic biology and artificial intelligence, and artificial life powered by mind grafts from human uploads, blending more and more until it will be impossible – and pointless – to tell which is which. Therefore, I think the coming machine overlords will be our children and the future of our species, and I don’t want to abort them.

Images from Shutterstock.