Elon Musk’s AI “Child Warning” marketing approach

“I disapprove what you say,
but I will defend to the death the right to say it.”
(E. B. Hall – misattributed to Voltaire)

Elon Musk is surely a great entrepreneur. His companies SpaceX, Tesla, and OpenAI are pioneering the world of Artificial Intelligence with a clear and pragmatic approach.

However, almost every day it’s possible to read a tweet like this:

Artificial Intelligence, which arose during and just after the second world war, thanks to the results of most recent research, has become a threat. A so terrible threat that nothing or nobody on the Earth could be more dangerous! Is it true?

Let’s start with some basic analysis. If you take a history book and read the summary, you discover what almost everybody knows: wars are the main topic. Even an artificial intelligence, like LDA, should consider this element in defining its priors! Ok, this isn’t enough. What were the causes for all those wars? Am I too pessimistic if I say that human beings were the only causes? Probably yes… To be more polite, I should distinguish among defensive and conquest wars and then, among conflicts arisen from the need of primary resources and others instigated by the strong powers. However, at the end of the day, all wars were brought about by neither artificial nor human intelligence!

We can now move to our current scenario. North Korea is not North Korea. North Korea is a man who thinks to destroy a nation (the USA). Potential partners (like Russia and China) are not artificial systems, they are a group of politicians who never give up their power. Do you think that they are going to grant an artificial intelligence the permission to start a war (I remember a famous 90s movie)? Maybe it’ll be the most pacific act in their whole career!

So, why is artificial intelligence so scaring? Someone can say that its results can increase the precision of current weapons. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed using an old plane and two prototypical bombs. There’s no need for more precision. If the reason would be this, well, the research in fields like automation and control systems is not so original. A Kalman’s filter can help landing a plane or driving a missile, just like a blade can be used as dagger or scalpel to save a life.

Moreover, there’s another thing that I keep considering quite weird. Artificial Intelligence is based on rational theories. A reinforcement learning agent has to learn considering its current and future reward, while the majority of heinous acts were fierce, irrational decisions are taken often only by a single person (introducing another “agent” can break the symmetry!). Therefore, why does Elon Musk continues writing and saying the same things?

It’s like a child warning. If you want a child to do something, forbid it! Artificial Intelligence must be democratized: this is the only way to promote a dramatic business change and all the hype continuously promoted by the social networks isn’t a valid help. It’s like for the electricity or for the gas: if you want to sell them, don’t hide their dangers! This lesson has been learned by Edison when he killed an elephant to prove that Westinghouse’s alternate current was lethal. Yes, it was and it is. But direct current is too expensive and it can be easily obtained from alternate one.

Artificial Intelligence isn’t a threat and, to be honest, I doubt it can be eviler than a human being! However, science fiction has created an image that could be counter-productive. In almost any sci-fi production, AI is a tool adopted in any kind of war. That’s the most widespread image. Several times I read tweets talking about a “Terminator” scenario. Isn’t it a coincidence? Unfortunately no. For many people, the idea that a machine could solve problems like other human beings is scary and so… Let’s make it really scary! Let’s kill a real elephant! So that all the ones with an electric plug can consider themselves as absolute kings!

This is marketing! Only marketing. No science. No technology. No awareness. Nothing more than marketing. And marketing is a business.

See also:

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