Evslin: What’s more dangerous, AI or Elon Musk?

Both have great potential

by Tom Evslin

Elon Musk says that AI is a “civilizational risk” which requires government regulation. He also tweets “Like Gulliver, tied down by thousands of of [sic] little strings, we lose our freedom one regulation at a time.” Possible explanation of this paradox: Musk would like development in AI tied down by thousands of little strings until he and his new company xAI can catch up with OpenAI, which he helped found and lost control over.

In some contexts Elon plausibly claims leadership in artificial intelligence because of his achievements with autonomous machines including self-driving cars and the amazing rocket-boosters landing themselves for reuse on robotic barges in the ocean.  Notably he doesn’t have “civilizational” concern over this technology although millions of computer-controlled cars on the road and rockets coming down from space are better armed to do immediate harm to humankind, were they so inclined or so programmed, than disembodied chatbots running in the cloud.

Right after the Russian invasion, Elon’s Starlink helped save Ukraine by enabling the defenders to communicate even as the aggressors destroyed much of the fixed infrastructure. According to stories I’ve heard, Starlink engineers defeated Russian hackers trying to shut the links down. When the Defense Department couldn’t decide whether to pay for Starlink terminals, SpaceX decided to keep supplying them to Ukraine anyway. But later, according to Walter Isaacson’s biography, Elon decided not to allow Starlink to be used as part of a Ukrainian attack on the Russian navy in Crimea because he thought it might lead to a wider war. [He later backtracked and claimed that he really had no discretion because US trade embargos meant that he couldn’t legally activate Starlink over Russian-occupied Crimea.]

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, among others, questions whether billionaires should be making foreign policy. It’s a good question although one might ask whether foreign policy, instead, should be made by millionaire Harvard professors. Without the technology Musk is responsible for which made Starlink possible and without the billions he spent through privately owned SpaceX to make it happen, there would’ve been no decision to be made. The US has a strategic advantage because SpaceX is based here and because we are deploying a military version of the service which will be under full control of the military and not Musk, On the other hand…

Artificial intelligence is already enabling medical research which will save and improve lives. AI is a leveler, which will allow those who’ve received a poor formal education to compete with the educationally well-endowed. Yes, it can be used to write an essay which a student claims as her own. It can also write a better resume and employment letter than she might have been able to without its help and do the bureaucratic part of a job for her. AI is used both to help hackers scam and to defeat scams from hackers.

OpenAI, Google, and Facebook trained their LLMs (Large Language Models like ChatGPT) to be politically correct and as inoffensive as they could make them. Elon says that the xAI product will not be trained in political correctness. Is that a double danger to civilization or an opportunity for that LLM to make discoveries further from the beaten path?

Musk and AI both have huge potential and pose huge risks. I don’t think we should attempt to put either the genius or the genie back in the bottle. We will have to watch them both.

The author, an author, entrepreneur, former Vermont state cabinet officer, lives in Stowe. He founded NG Advantage, a natural gas truck delivery company. This commentary is republished with permission from his blog, Fractals of Change.

Categories: Commentary

5 replies »

  1. Clif High profoundly broke down the AI hysteria recently. AI is limited in ability and is not invincible. Think logically.

  2. What’s more dangerous, AI or Elon Musk? …. or Tom Evslin, or you, or me?

    This article is way too long and could have been cut to three sentences.

    “Musk and AI both have huge potential and pose huge risks. I don’t think we should attempt to put either the genius or the genie back in the bottle. We will have to watch them both.”

    Indeed. Let ‘the market’ decide.

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  3. And the world’s few… evil people have little power without the help of the world’s many stupid people. As a result, stupidly is a far greater threat than evil – Gurwinder Bhogal

    “In the United States, a couple of decades ago when leftists were a minority in the universities, leftist professors were vigorous proponents of academic freedom, but today in those universities where leftists have become dominant, they have shown themselves ready to take away everyone else s academic freedom. This is “political correctness”. The same will happen with leftists and technology: They will use it to oppress everyone else if they ever get it under their own control”. Ted Kaczynski

    Albert Einstein: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots”.

    Frank Herbert – Dune 1965: Once men turned their thinking over to machines in hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.

    “There are no dangerous weapons. There are only dangerous men”.
    Robert A. Heinlein

    • I suspect, of course, that ‘stupidity’ is a self-correcting characteristic… one way or another. This is why I, for one, don’t live in fear of an oppressive government. They are too stupid and incompetent to affect my chosen lifestyle. My fear is that I become complacent and fail to look both ways when crossing the street – especially at a government mandated crosswalk.