Tesla boss Elon Musk warns artificial intelligence development is 'summoning the demon'

The business magnate, inventor and investor has warned about artificial intelligence before

Emma Finamore,Kunal Dutta
Sunday 26 October 2014 21:05 GMT
CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk
CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk (Getty)

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has described artificial intelligence as a “demon” and the “biggest existential threat there is”, in his latest dramatic statement about technology.

Addressing students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Musk said: “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.

“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.”

The business magnate, inventor and investor, who is also CEO and CTO of SpaceX, and chairman of SolarCity, has warned about artificial intelligence before, which he believes could be more threatening than nuclear weapons.

In August he tweeted: “Worth reading Superintelligence by Bostrom. We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.”

In another Twitter post he said: “Hope we're not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence. Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable.”

During his MIT appearance Musk also discussed his company SpaceX’s plans to help populate Mars. “It’s cool to send one mission to Mars, but that’s not what will change the future for humanity,” he said.

“What matters is being able to establish a self-sustaining civilisation on Mars, and I don’t see anything being done but SpaceX. I don’t see anyone else even trying.”

Musk left the symposium to a standing ovation. Watch the whole thing here.

The ethical issues around AI were highlighted earlier this year when Google bought the British start-up DeepMind for $400 million (£242m). The London-based firm, founded by chess prodigy Demis Hassabis, specialises in algorithms and machine learning for e-commerce and games. But Mr Hassabis has also predicted that AI machines will learn “basic vision, basic sound processing, basic movement control, and basic language abilities” by the end of the decade.

Google has acquired a slew of robotics firms, including Boston Dynamics

That purchase – Google’s largest European acquisition – came just months after it bought Boston Dynamics, a firm that produces life-like military robots. Google has reportedly set up an “ethics board” in wake of the purchases but concerns remain.

Dr Stuart Armstrong, from the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, has warned that artificial intelligence could spur mass unemployment as machinery replaces manpower. He has also warned about the implications for uncontrolled mass surveillance if computers were taught to recognise human faces.

But Mr Musk’s warning has particular weight given his strong credentials as a tech pioneer. The South African-born multi-millionaire’s CV includes online payments system PayPal, electronic car manufacturer Tesla Motors, and Hyperloop – his proposal for a near-supersonic transport link between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In 2002 many sneered as Mr Musk launched a private space travel company Space X. A decade later it became the first private firm to launch a spacecraft into orbit and bring it back to earth.

Intelligent machines: AI breakthroughs


A bedside computer that entertains patients while engaging them with relevant information and advice.


Understands the context of language and how words fit together.


Applies AI to labour-intensive clerical tasks.


Uses advanced mathematics to detect abnormal behaviour in organisations instantly in order to manage risks from cyber attacks.

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