Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson Joke About Superintelligent AI Turning Humans into 'Pet Labradors' on StarTalk

Tuesday, 24 March 2015 - 1:32PM
Tuesday, 24 March 2015 - 1:32PM
Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson Joke About Superintelligent AI Turning Humans into 'Pet Labradors' on StarTalk
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Our friendly neighborhood astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson had SpaceX founder/real-life Tony Stark Elon Musk on his radio show, StarTalk, on Sunday, and the two geniuses had some choice words about artificial intelligence, especially the "superintelligence" popularized by Nick Bostrom

The concept of a "superintelligence" is an old one in the artificial intelligence community; it conceives of an artificial intelligence that is self-aware enough to make improvements to itself, thereby setting off an exponential "intelligence explosion." This AI's potential for increased intelligence would theoretically be infinite, so they would be far more intelligent than humans.

During Musks's interview, Musk and Tyson had an endearingly lighthearted exchange about superintelligence turning humans into their housebroken pets (albeit with an undercurrent of seriousness): 

Musk: If there was a very deep digital superintelligence that was created that could go into rapid recursive self-improvement in a non-algorithmic way … it could reprogram itself to be smarter and iterate very quickly and do that 24 hours a day on millions of computers, well–
Tyson: Then that's all she wrote. [laughs]

Musk: That's all she wrote. I mean, we won't be like a pet Labrador if we're lucky.

Tyson: A pet Lab.

Musk: I have a pet Labrador, by the way.

Tyson: We'll be their pets.

Musk: It's like the friendliest creature. [laughs]

Tyson: No, they'll domesticate us.

Musk: Yes! Exactly.

Tyson: So we'll be lab pets to them.

Musk: Yes, or something strange is going to happen.

Tyson: They'll keep the docile humans and get rid of the violent ones.

Musk: Yeah.

Tyson: And then breed the docile humans.

Tyson does a lot of joking in the segment, but Musk is much more serious throughout, and they're both serious about the threat of superintelligence. At one point, Musk claimed that the behavior of superintelligence is inherently unpredictable, since we can't conceive of its reasoning. As an example, he shared his concerns about a hypothetical superintelligent AI that is programmed to optimize happiness:

"It may conclude that all unhappy humans should be terminated," Musk said. "Or that we should all be captured and with dopamine and serotonin directly injected into our brains to maximize happiness because it's concluded that dopamine and serotonin are what cause happiness, therefore maximize it."
Artificial Intelligence