Elon Musk called AI a “fundamental risk to the existence of civilisation” on the weekend, urging governments to take steps to regulate the technology “before it’s too late”.

At a meeting of the National Governors Association, Musk, known for his tumultuous relationship with AI, reiterated his stance that being proactive when it comes to regulation will be essential for preventing any risks the tech may pose.

“I have exposure to the very cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned about it,” said Musk, speaking to attendees at the meeting. “I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react, because it seems so ethereal.”

“AI is a rare case where we need to be proactive about regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’s too late.”

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO believes the current approach to regulation, which often reacts when “a whole bunch of bad things happen”, such as self-driving car crashes, is not quick enough to deal with the problems AI poses to society.

“AI is a fundamental existential risk to human civilisation, and I don’t think people appreciate that,” he added. “There will certainly be a lot of job disruption, as robots will be able to do everything better than us – that includes all of us. It really is the scariest problem for me.”

However, not all agree that AI job losses will necessarily be a terrible thing. Accounting firm PwC recently found that global GDP could rise as much as 14% by 2030 as a result of AI, primarily as the technology starts to replace manual labour roles. 

Musk isn’t referring to the type of AI being used by the likes of Google and Microsoft for personal assistants, but rather ‘general’ AI that is designed to think and reason for a wide range of use cases.

As companies race each other to develop this kind of AI, governments must act as mediators to ensure that the technology is best serving the public, according to the entrepreneur.

Researchers responded to Musk’s comments with their own concerns about the tech, specifically how current AI tech can be exploited. Google Brain researcher David Ha said that he was worried that machine learning could be used to “mask unethical human activities”, while Francois Chollet, creator of neural platform Keras, argued that “the greatest threat is mass population control” through the use of “propaganda bot armies”.

Musk’s comments can be watched in the below video at roughly 48 minutes in. He has previously referred to building general AI as “summoning the devil”, but is also CEO of NeuraLink, a firm committed to augmenting the human brain with artificial intelligence.

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