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Why Elon Musk Is Comparing Artificial Intelligence To Nukes

Elon Musk says artificial intelligence could be more dangerous than nukes. Is he being too fatalistic?
Posted at 12:22 PM, Aug 04, 2014

Billionaire entrepreneur and "real-life Tony Stark" Elon Musk is making headlines with an ominous tweet about the dangers of artificial intelligence. (Via Getty Images)

Musk tweeted Saturday: "Worth reading Superintelligence by Bostrom. We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes."

The first half of that tweet refers to Nick Bostrom, a Swedish philosopher who has written extensively about artificial intelligence, and his book "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies." (Via TED, Amazon)

According to the summary on Amazon, the book deals with the questions of what happens when artificial intelligence surpasses humans and whether AI will help or hurt us. (Via YouTube / Adam Ford)

In that context, it seems like Musk comes down on the "hurt us" side of that debate with his comparison to nukes, which was quickly picked up by a number of outlets. 

Mashable called Musk's tweets a "mini rant" and wrote the tweet about nukes "might be the most controversial technology statement of his career." 

And CNET pointed out this isn't the first time Musk has voiced his concerns about the future of AI.

"I'd like to keep an eye on what's going on with artificial intelligence. I think there's potentially a dangerous outcome there. ... There's been movies about this, like 'Terminator.'" (Via CNBC)

Both of those outlets also pointed to futurist and Google exec Ray Kurzweil as Musk's counterpoint, as Kurzweil sees the development of AI as a good — and inevitable — thing. (Via Vice)

"The bottom line is we are one human machine civilization — this technology has already expanded who we are and is going to go into high gear when we get to the steep part of the exponential." (Via Big Think)

Musk also comes down on the negative side of that idea — the merger of human and machine — tweeting"Hope we're not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence. Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable."

So from Musk's perspective, it seems if we're not careful, we're looking at one of two situations:

Either superintelligent future robots wage war to annihilate humanity a la "Terminator," or superintelligent future robots enslave humanity and use us as a battery like in "The Matrix." (Via Warner Bros. / 'Terminator: Salvation', Warner Bros. / 'The Matrix')

Either way, Musk doesn't have much to be fatalistic about as his Tesla electric car franchise is now set to expand with a new battery factory in the U.S.