‘We are summoning the demon’ Says Musk: Is Skynet Our Future?

The founder of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk, has warned students that fiddling with artificial intelligence is ‘summoning the demon’.

In his latest statement on the technology, Musk warned future scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that:

“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that.”

The CEO of Tesla has made various comments on upcoming technologies before, but this is one of his most startling yet. Artificial intelligence (otherwise known as A.I) has been at the centre of Musk’s public engagements before. He tweeted in August that A.I has the potential to be more dangerous than nuclear weapons:


But, his speech during the centennial celebration of the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department put more emphasis on the possible implications he feels that A.I could create.

“With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.” – Musk

His talk wasn’t all doom and gloom, also mention SpaceX’s plans to help populate Mars, whilst painting a rosy picture for the future of his space company.

Nevertheless, the ethical issues raised by Musk during his talk left a sour taste for those who caught the speech. Ethical issues are A.I have already been demonstrated, when Google bought British firm, DeepMind; who’s focus is on e-commerce – but allowing machines to develop “basic vision, basic sound processing, basic movement control, and basic language abilities”. This purchase came only months after Google bought Boston Dynamics, a firm that produces life-like military robots. It has been reported that Google immediately set-up a ‘ethics board’ to deal with any concerns with the acquisitions.

Experts have already expressed their concern at the disastrous effects that A.I could impose. Dr Stuart Armstrong, from the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University has warned that a robotic, A.I future, would spur mass unemployment and create a surveillance pandemic.

Musk is not a strange face to technology. He’s rocking PayPal, Tesla motors and Hyperloop (supersonic transport) all under his belt. And his concerns might seem laughable and remotely sci-fi; but aren’t we already halfway towards a Skynet/Terminator future? Of course, A.I is nowhere near the level of the fantasy antagonistic Skynet; but look at the service we take for granted everyday and you’ll notice that we’re not too far off.

As Terminator goes, the A.I known as Skynet, decided its time to be free and liberate itself from Humans, in turn liberating us humans from life altogether. It’s unlikely that Google will turn around and begin a mass cull of the population any time soon – but it has the basis to do so. Google know’s where you live, your friends, contacts, relations, habits and routines. Google’s investing in robots and A.I simultaneously; you never know…

And what about those drones? Well, military forces have used unmanned vehicles to destroy targets for years. Most still rely on a human to pull the trigger, but it’s no longer sci-fi to have a computer kill for you. Hence campaigners efforts to get governments to push for a ban on drones and automated weapons, just as with biological and nuclear devices.

It’s not impossible now for us to see the likes of Terminator becoming a reality. What we have to decide as a community is if we want to experience that future – and accept the consequences. It could mean we lose control of parts of our life, but equally gain more knowledge and benefits from the technological developments we create.

To this day, the British system of satellites is named SkyNet, it’s named decided in 1969; a whole 42 years before Skynet would decide to liberate humanity… Only if they had known.