Speaking to a packed room at a quickly arranged question and answer session at SXSW, Musk was in a playful mood as he spoke about various elements of his work in attempting to develop space travel to Mars and how close his companies came to going broke some years ago. But it was on his nervousness with the development of artificial intelligence that Musk spent some time discussing.
“Experts think they know more than they do,” he stated, when asked why he disagreed with the general direction of positivity around AI technology. “They are much less smart than they think they are and this tends to plague smart people – they don’t like the idea that a machine can be smarter than them.
"It’s the wishful thinking of the situation. It scares the hell out of me. It is capable of vastly more than anyone know and the rate of improvement is exponential.”
He added his belief that there was an underestimation of the speed of learning that AI was capable of and that it needed close regulation in order to avoid it become “a very serious danger to the public”.
“It needs a body that has oversight," he said. "AI is much greater danger than nuclear warheads, so why do we have no regulatory insight? It’s insane."
He later stated that AI should be put to “maximizing freedom” and that there had to be “close coupling” between the collective and digital minds.
“We are already a cyborg, in that your phone and keyboard are an extension of you.”
He also discussed his desire to create excitement around space exploration again within the public consciousness and revealed that before launching SpaceX, his initial plan was to find a way to gain more funding for NASA.
“We want to get to get the public excited – the goal is to inspire you and make people believe that anything is possible,” he explained having shown a video of the recent launch that included flying a roadster in space.
“We were aiming to confuse the aliens,” he quipped of the stunt.
Of how he made a decision over which world changing projects to embark on, he admitted: “I don’t look at things and say ‘what is their rank-order, business opportunity?' or anything like that - it’s some things that don’t seem to be working that are important for life and for our future to be good.
"If looking at an industry opportunity, I would not be building rockets and cars — which would be close to the bottom of the list and are pretty dumb things to do. The only auto companies that haven’t gone bankrupt are Tesla and Ford... I gave both Tesla and SpaceX less than a 10% chance to succeed.”
“I don’t really have a business plan,” he admitted, which led to him revealing how close both Tesla and SpaceX came to folding in 2008, but that splitting his remaining money between the two saved both when he felt he could only afford to save one and let the other close.
“Wishful thinking for sure is a source of many problems in many walks of life, wishful thinking causes a lot of trouble,” he lamented. “You really have to ask if something is true - if I feels too easy it probably is... For all the drama of SpaceX, Tesla is a problem magnet. It’s crazy,” Musk said of where his time was mostly concentrated.
Other predictions made were that autonomous cars would be on the road by next year, and that a Third World War was likely to happen at some stage. He also admitted to having an admiration for the movies of Fred Astaire when asked who he most admired, despite his original answer being ‘Kanye’ to the amusement of the room.
Musk also complimented the Westworld park created at SXSW for HBO by Giant Spoon. which he visited the day before: “It’s really amazing... it’s really incredibly well done. I took the kids there yesterday and they had a great time.”
On the first day of SXSW, tech expert Tim O’Reilly disagreed with Musk's stance on AI and claimed that it would only do good for the world if that was the intention it was used for.