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Elon Musk has warned US Governors they need to regulate AI "before it's too late"

Artificial intelligence is expected to impact our society in several fronts. For example, Microsoft has recently announced its AI for Earth program, which aims at solving "global environmental challenges by increasing access to AI tools and educational opportunities, while accelerating innovation", while Google DeepMind's AlphaGo has defeated the current world number one Go player last May.

But not everything looks pretty when it comes to AI. Chinese scientists have claimed last year that their neural network was capable of setting criminals apart from law-abiding citizens just by looking at their faces. Such a system sets a dangerous precedent for a future where “justice” is done a priori, rather than based on facts. Worse, some experts even claim AI could, one day, get out of human control, which led to the development of an algorithm by researchers from DeepMind and Oxford that could interrupt a misbehaving AI and keep it from seeking or learning how to resist.

Elon Musk is among those who see AI as a possible threat to our civilization, if used the wrong way. In the past, he has even stated that building a general-intelligence AI would be like “summoning the demon", and this week he has urged US governors to regulate AI "before it's too late".

Speaking in the closing plenary of the National Governors Association 2017 Summer Meeting, Elon Musk argued that AI is "the biggest risk that we face as a civilization”, when asked about the possibility of job losses due to the arrival of AI in the workplace. According to Musk:

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 I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’s too late.

Normally the way regulations are set up is a while bunch of bad things happen, there’s a public outcry, and after many years a regulatory agency is set up to regulate that industry. It takes forever. That, in the past, has been bad but not something which represented a fundamental risk to the existence of civilization. AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.

Of course, because AI is a technology still in development, not even Musk is sure about what should be regulated. But as a first step, he suggested trying to "learn as much as possible, to understand the nature of the issues".

The danger poised by AI wasn't the only subject of the interview, though. For example, Musk talked about automation of jobs, which he expects to begin with the transport sector. You can watch below Musk's remarks on AI, from the 48 minutes mark.

Sources: MIT Technology Review and recode

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