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Excited schoolboy Sunak gushes as mentor Musk warns of humanoid robot catastrophe

Sunak declares himself very ‘privexcited’ to be granted an audience with Musk – so much so that Fanboy Rishi stumbles over his words, says Sean O’Grady

Friday 03 November 2023 08:39 GMT
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The PM and tech tycoon have a Q&A about the future of humanity
The PM and tech tycoon have a Q&A about the future of humanity (EPA)

To understand the world of Rishi Sunak you must never forget that he was head boy at his school, Winchester, and while you can take the politician out of Winchester, you can’t take the head boy out of the politician. Sunak, who still wears his suits like a kid at school who’s almost outgrown his uniform, sits opposite a relaxed Elon Musk, awestruck.

It’s as if our prime minister was still in the sixth form, had sent off a speculative letter asking Musk to come to talk at the school about “What Artificial Intelligence Means for our World” – and was pretty stunned that he got lucky. Elon turned up! Elon!

The richest man in the whole world! Someone who is in that most select 21st-century “club” of tycoons, the centi-billionaires (Elon is worth about $225bn). Musk makes Sunak’s dad-in-law, a mere multi-billionaire, resemble a universal credit claimant, and Sunak doesn’t mind that a bit. In truth, Musk’s musings often border on David Brent in their banality and delusion; but that much money? 

He declared himself very “privexcited” to be granted an audience with Musk – so much so that Fanboy Rishi stumbled over his words, perhaps deciding at the last millisecond that it’s a bit demeaning for the prime minister of the United Kingdom to be “privileged” to be in the presence of Musk, so went for excited in the end.

Musk seemed the more relaxed and confident of the pair
Musk seemed the more relaxed and confident of the pair (EPA)

He’s nuts, mind you, is Musk. This is a man who believes humanity is doomed and will have to start a colony on Mars to preserve the species – a giant leisure hive powered by batteries and solar energy, and where AI robots will toil in geodomes and spotless factories to grow crops and make Teslas and Asimov-inspired T-shirts. AI will also become your personal tutor, and a friend. And where the “woke mind virus” has been extirpated. He talks a bit like Kermit the Frog, looks curiously flushed, and knows what he’s on about; but he’s actually a bit dull.

By turns Rishi sought to impress, flatter and ingratiate himself with the space-travelling visionary; and Musk was indulgent enough to return the compliments. Approval was sought, and duly granted. There was mutual grooming and much polite-nervous laughter. Sunak was not interested in challenging Musk’s absurd assertion that X (ie Twitter) is all about truth.

Instead Sunak professed himself proud that he’d invited the Chinese to come to the AI Safety Summit, even though “a lot of people criticised me” (he’s referring to former head girl Liz Truss, whose name can never be uttered). Musk graciously acknowledged that that was indeed laudable “Very good. If China is not on board with AI safety it’s not a good situation.”

Elon Musk warns of humanoid robots that can 'chase you anywhere'

Somehow managing not to betray any worries he might have about hanging on to his own job, head boy Sunak asked for Musk’s thoughts on the impact AI will have on the labour market. Mentor Musk obliged with almost Delphic grace: “When no job is needed … you can do a job if you want a job … but the AI will do everything.” Sunak, whose diligence towards homework is legendary, suggested it was a “tricky thing”, because, after all, “where do you get that drive, that purpose” if AI was doing your job”.

That is probably not an objection to AI that would occur to his bone idle predecessor, Boris Johnson, who might have preferred to have left dealing with the Covid pandemic and with Dominic Cummings to a suitably trained AI robot, at least until it all blowed over. The notion that AI means you don’t have to work doesn’t terrify everyone…

Musk was more reassuring about being pursued by Terminator-style “humanoid robots” that “can basically chase you everywhere”. That does sound suspiciously like how the British electorate have been going after the beleaguered Sunak. Tamworth, Flitwick, Tiverton, Selby: no sanctuary anywhere. No matter what Sunak throws to them. Cancellation of HS2 or the end of the tyranny of seven bins: a cracking title for a Doctor Who serial – a war on woke; the voters, led by a monomaniacal cyborg called the Starmerbot, the Davros of Democratic Socialism, never gives up his pursuit. How nice it would be for Rishi, as his friend Elon suggested, if a “key word” could put the crazed Starmerbot into “a safe state”. Alas, that bit of the code is still missing.

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