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Ma vs Musk on AI: The Optimistic Versus the Dystopian Viewpoint

Ma vs Musk on AI: The Optimistic Versus the Dystopian Viewpoint

By AI Trends Staff

When you get Jack Ma and Elon Musk on the same stage debating the impact of AI, you get a study in contrasts.

Musk is CEO of Tesla and Ma is chairman of Alibaba Group Holding. The two shared a stage recently at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai. 

Here is a selection of the exchanges published by Bloomberg:

Regarding AI, Musk said, “People underestimate the capability of AI. They sort of think like it’s a smart human. (But it’s going to be) much smarter than the smartest human you will ever know.”

Ma said, “I never in my life say human beings will be controlled by machines, it’s impossible…Human beings can never create another thing that is smarter than human beings.”

Musk said, “I very much disagree with that.”

In another contrasting exchange, Ma said, “I’m quite optimistic and I don’t think artificial intelligence is a threat.” Musk’s retort included the phrase, “famous last words.”

This debate epitomizes the clash between the “narrow” AI embedded in GPS systems and Amazon recommendations, and the goal of artificial general intelligence, a self-teaching system able to outperform humans across a range of disciplines. This is known as the “singularity,’ which some scientists believe is 30 years away, if it is ever achieved. 

A recent account in Smithsonian quoted luminaries on many sides of this debate. In the area of employment, the prediction is that AI will be able to perform many jobs now done by humans,  including drivers and insurance adjusters. The optimistic view is that this will lead to government paying unemployed citizens a universal basic income, freeing them to pursue their dreams. The pessimistic view is this will create great wealth inequality and possibly failed nations around the globe.   

Ma was optimistic about the impact of AI on employment, however his views have shifted, noted an account of the Musk-Ma debate in Forbes. He said AI has the potential to cut the time spent in the office to 12 hours per week, freeing up time for other pursuits. “For the next 10, 20 years, every human being, country, government should focus on reforming the education system, making sure our kids can find a job, a job that only requires three days a week, four hours a day,” Ma said.

That was a changed sentiment from Ma’s statement in April this year in which he endorsed the idea of working from 9 am to 9 pm six days a week, like employees of many startups and tech giants in China.  That schedule is nicknamed “996.” Ma had said in a blog post on Weibo, the Chinese social media site, “996 is not a problem.”

Read the source posts in Bloomberg, Smithsonian and Forbes.