Magic genies, killer robots and AI friends – all the best quotes from Elon Musk’s chat with Rishi Sunak in London

  • British prime minister Rishi Sunak interviewed Elon Musk on Thursday after an AI Safety Summit.
  • They discussed the summit, AI’s impact on jobs, China, and even Musk’s fears of killer robots. 
  • In their 51-minute chat, Musk said AI would be “the most disruptive force in history.” 

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Elon Musk was interviewed by UK prime minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday night after the Tesla CEO attended an AI safety summit in England this week.

The summit at Bletchley Park brought tech bosses, experts, and national representatives together to tackle AI safety issues and discuss international cooperation.

The EU and 28 countries signed the “Bletchley Declaration” during the two-day summit, agreeing that governments should test AI models before they’re released.

Sunak said he was “privileged and excited” to interview the SpaceX and Tesla founder.

In their 51-minute chat, the two discussed the summit and future of AI before opening up to questions from the audience of business leaders gathered at the grandiose Lancaster House. Journalists attended, but were not allowed to ask any questions.

From the importance of including China in AI discussions to Musk’s claim that an AI friend would be good for his son, here’s some of the best quotes from their meeting.

Musk’s take on the summit

The SpaceX founder started out by thanking Sunak for hosting the conference, welcoming efforts from global leaders to confront the issues posed by AI.

  • “I think actually it will go down in history as being very important. I think it’s really quite profound.”

He complimented Sunak for inviting China, calling its involvement in AI safety discussions “essential.”

  • “Having them here, I think [is] essential really. If they’re not participants, it’s pointless. I think if the United States and the UK and China are aligned on safety, that’s all going to be a good thing.”

On AI

Musk thought AI would likely have a positive effect, but admitted there was sometimes too much optimism about technology.

  • It will “create a future of abundance where there is no scarcity of goods and services.”

  • “It is somewhat of the magic genie problem, where if you have a magic genie that can grant all the wishes, usually those stories don’t end well. Be careful what you wish for, including wishes.”

Discussing a future where all children have access to an AI tutor, Musk also expressed hopes that the technology will help his son socially.

  • “One of my sons sort of has some learning disabilities and has trouble making friends actually. Well, an AI friend would actually be great for him.”

On government regulation

Although the Tesla founder has previously spoken out against higher taxes for the rich and said he opposed government subsidies, Musk acknowledged the need for national leaders to play a role when public safety is at risk.

  • “When you’re talking about digital super intelligence, which does pose a risk to the public, then there is a role for government to play to safeguard the interest of the public.”

Musk said it was a good idea for governments to act as AI referees to ensure “sportsmanlike conduct.”

  • “I think we’ve learned over the years that having a referee is a good thing. If you look at any sports game, there’s always a referee.”

  • “On balance, I think that the AI will be a forceful good, most likely, but the probability of it going bad is not zero per cent. So we just need to mitigate the downside potential.”

The future of jobs

  • “There will come a point when no job is needed – you can have a job if you want for personal satisfaction, but the AI will be able to do everything.”

But as a serial workaholic himself, Musk acknowledged that work gives many people purpose.

  • “One of the challenges in the future will be how do we find meaning in life if you have a magic genie that can do everything you want.”

  • “It’s fun to cook food, but it’s not that fun to wash the dishes. The computer’s perfectly happy to wash dishes.”

And on how we will all make a living in the future?

  • “We won’t have universal basic income. We’ll have universal high income.”

Being chased by humanoid robots

Musk’s greatest concern appears to be the potential for humanoid robots to start chasing us.

  • “I do think there is a safety concern, especially with humanoid robots. You can sort of run up a flight of stairs and get away from a Tesla – but if you have a humanoid robot, it can basically chase you anywhere.”

He suggested offline and localized switches, “where you don’t have to get too close to the robot,” would be necessary to avoid future killer robots.

X

Touching on one of the areas for which Musk has attracted the most controversy, Sunak’s last question was about X, the former Twitter.

  • “The general aspiration with the X platform is to inform and entertain the public and to be as accurate as possible and as truthful as possible. Even if someone doesn’t like the truth. People don’t always like the truth,” Musk said.

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Polly Thompson