Elon Musk is spending $10 million to save us from an evil robot takeover

What’s happening behind those eyes?
What’s happening behind those eyes?
Image: AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani
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Elon Musk may be a tech guru, but it turns out he’s just as scared of robots taking over the world as anyone else who grew up watching Terminator movies. So the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX announced yesterday that he is giving $10 million to fund research that ensures artificial intelligence will be used for good, not evil.

He donated the money to the Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit research group, which will distribute the money in grants. In a video that the organization released, Musk talks about his motivations [via the Verge]:

“The range of negative outcomes—some of them are quite severe.  So it’s not clear whether we’d be able to recover from some of these negative outcomes. In fact, you’d be able to construct scenarios where recovery of human civilization does not occur. And when the risk is that severe; it seems like you should be proactive and not reactive.”

Based on a document the organization released detailing research priorities, the grant money could vary from the ethics of autonomous cars and weapons to the potentially negative economic impacts of replacing human labor with robots—Musk says in the video that one of the most useful things AI can do is to eliminate “drudgery,” but that this could also put millions of people out of work.

This isn’t the first time Musk has expressed such sentiments:

And he has even explicitly compared potential real life outcomes to the Terminator.

“[I]n the movie “Terminator,” they didn’t create A.I. to—they didn’t expect, you know some sort of “Terminator”-like outcome. It is sort of like the “Monty Python” thing: Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition. It’s just—you know, but you have to be careful.”

He talked at a Vanity Fair conference  about how a robot programmed to get rid of spam could decide that getting rid of humans was the best way to get rid of spam.

And at an MIT symposium, he called artificial intelligence “our biggest existential threat”:

“With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.”

This week, Musk signed an open letter calling for research that will “help maximize the societal benefit of AI.”