Ah yes, Elon Musk. It wouldn’t be a future tech blog without mentioning the self-proclaimed future tech guru himself.
A few weeks ago, Musk threw himself into the AI debate by signing a well-publicised call to halt the development of technologies like ChatGPT. It looked like a rare moment of considered thought from someone whose companies always strive to be at the cutting edge.
But was it really?
I, for one, am skeptical about it all to be honest. This seems so out of character. When has Musk ever been opposed to technological development? And isn’t AI already extensively integrated across his companies? Really, I can’t believe…
Oh, what’s that? He’s announced his own startup called X.AI?
And people are calling it ‘TruthGPT’? Eugh.
We better get into this…
The ChatGPT drama
At the beginning of the month, the Future of Life Institute wrote an open letter. It called for a halt to all developments surrounding experimental AI projects, mainly targeted at GPT-4.
It was signed by numerous important people in the tech world, including Elon and Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak. Amongst the panic that ChatGPT caused, this was a welcome voice of restraint.
It was especially odd because it showed an example of tech companies speaking out before the regulatory world had even got its shoes on. Usually, the two entities are at odds, but here something was different.
And it’s doubly odd because Apple, and now an Elon-related company, are actively working on generative AI capabilities. The letter also has notable absences from senior figures at Google and Microsoft, who are both deep down the generative AI rabbit hole.
Now, I don’t want to sound too conspiracy theory, tin foil hat here but it made me think; is there an ulterior motive here?
Why are these companies, who are all almost certainly interested in AI as a way to develop their businesses, suddenly taking the moral high ground?
Elon Musk and AI: A History Lesson
Musk announced his new company X.AI, which we’ll get to later, last week but it was officially incorporated on 9th March this year. And the roots go much, much deeper.
What most people don’t know is Musk co-founded OpenAI in 2015. He saw the non-profit as a way to prevent AI from becoming centralised. This meant the original mission was not to stop AI being ‘too powerful’, but to prevent it from becoming only accessible to a select few people/organisations.
Musk wanted AI to be available to all. In theory, spreading the power of AI evenly would make it less powerful overall.
He then left in 2015 due to potential conflicts of interest as Tesla began developing their own AI softwares. So don’t be mistaken, Musk has had fingers in many AI pies for a while now. He is not only a key developer in the space but also a key stakeholder. He has a huge vested interest.
Now his moral position has changed. Along with others, he is, apparently, worried about how unhinged the evolution of AI has become. ChatGPT’s generative capabilities have gone too far. A combination of its ability to misinform and take people’s jobs has crossed an ethical line. That’s the argument the petition he signed makes.
My qualm is not with this because I mostly agree, but instead with the not-so-faint whiff of hypocrisy this all has.
‘TruthGPT’ and X.AI: What are they?
X.AI. A suitably vague and meaningless name for what is, at the moment, a vague and meaningless entity.
Still, it’s better than ‘TruthGPT’ which sounds like a nauseating self-help guide written by an airy conspiracy theorist.
No-one knows exactly what X.AI is yet, but we can make some reasonable assumptions.
I don’t believe for one second that X.AI will refrain from engaging in generative AI. In fact, I’m almost certain it has been established to directly compete with Microsoft-backed OpenAI and Google’s DeepMind.
Musk will also be pouring all of Tesla and SpaceX’s previous AI experience into this new venture. Make no mistake, this is a full-blown attempt to become a dominant player in what is already an incredibly lucrative industry.
Honestly, I don’t see how X.AI won’t contribute to the proliferation of generative AI technologies. And therefore I don’t think Musk signed that petition because he cares so much about tech ethics.
The truth about Elon Musk and artificial intelligence
Let’s call a spade a spade, or in this case a generative AI chatbot a generative AI chatbot, and admit why Elon Musk (and Steve Wozniak for that matter) demanded a pause on AI development.
They want time to catch up.
ChatGPT is scary for normal people because it might take our jobs. But it’s scary for people like Musk because it highlights how far behind he might be in accessing what will become the dominant tech market.
AI is so deeply entrenched in Musk’s companies. It docks his spaceships and it drives his cars. So it would be silly to assume that he isn’t interested in making something similar to ChatGPT.
I mean, just think of the possibilities for his company.
An AI chatbot could help troubleshoot problems that occur on a spaceship much faster than a human. Or keep people company on long space flights (yes I know that is in every Sci-Fi movie ever but, just saying, it’s a probability!). What about manage his workforce, leaving him free to do whatever he wants?
It’s an attractive prospect.
So let’s be clear here. X.AI is not going to be some ‘truth-telling’, robot guru. It will end up being something very similar to ChatGPT, perhaps with stricter rules on its training models, and used mostly within the sphere of Tesla/SpaceX.
Apologies if this got a bit ranty. But the discourse around AI is annoying sometimes.
If people developing in this space were just transparent about what they were doing and wanted to achieve, then everyone would probably be much more at ease.
I think in general, AI needs a lot more attention from people asking serious, unbiased questions. As an illustration of this, I will end with a final glaring example.
Tesla is working on their ‘Optimus’ robot. It is AI-powered. The mission statement proposes it will be “capable of performing unsafe, repetitive or boring tasks”. Undoubtedly then, it will be taking people’s jobs if it ever materialises.
So, when people like Musk are praised for signing petitions about AI stealing jobs, whilst also launching their own AI companies, we should realise how far through the looking glass they have gone.
Shakespeare put it best; Methinks the lady doth protest too much!