At the recent World Government Summit held in Dubai, Tesla‘s (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk was given the opportunity to share his views and insights on some of the most pressing global issues and what the world can do to overcome the forthcoming challenges. In a session entitled “A Conversation with Elon Musk,” he touched on several topics including electric cars, sustainable energy generation, living in Mars, brain implants and space flights becoming as common as a plane ride. His most notable comments were the ones on artificial intelligence (AI), and automation.
On AI, Musk reiterated the threat that humanity may one day be surpassed by it. Specifically, he mentioned how dangerous it could be to have ‘deep artificial intelligence’ — AI that’s ‘smarter than the smartest human on Earth’. He also stressed that we have to be cautious about how we accept AI, and make sure researchers don’t get too carried away and to the point where they no longer realize where they’re heading and what will the consequences of their research be. Musk also said we should find a way to merge human intelligence with AI, and that this may be the solution that can keep AI from taking control over humans.
On automation, Musk singled out transportation as the industry that will be hardest and first to be hit, saying that large-scale automation of transportation will likely be realized in the next few decades. But it’s not just transportation that will be affected. The impact of automation will be felt across several industries, so much so that with the number of workers that will get displaced, governments will have no choice but to implement some kind of universal basic income (UBI) program to help its citizens cope with unemployment.
“I think it’s going to be necessary. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better,” said Musk.
While the billionaire tech idealist has always been vocal about his support for UBI, this is the first time he addresses the argument by noting the profound effect automation will have on mass unemployment. Apart from the obvious issue of financial worries stemming from shifts in labor demand, Musk believes there’s a more serious challenge that has to be overcome, and that’s ‘meaning’.
“A lot of people derive meaning from their employment. If you’re not needed, what is the meaning? Do you feel useless? That is a much harder problem to deal with. How do we ensure the future is a future that we want, that we still like?” These thoughts are important and something that government authorities may want to ponder on as they consider whether a form of UBI will indeed be beneficial to their citizens or not. Because now there’s more than just financials to think about. There’s a deeper issue that has to be considered too.
Aside from taking part in the World Government Summit, Musk was in Dubai for another important reason. He was there for Tesla’s official launch in the UAE. As part of the launch, Tesla will be opening a pop-up store in Dubai Mall. Musk also said that Tesla will be investing millions of dollars in the UAE so that by 2018, it will become possible to ride in an electric vehicle while traveling anywhere in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (collectively known as the Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC).
That’s Elon Musk for you. Always the visionary – not just with his company, but with the entire world. And though some of his ‘predictions’ might sound too far-fetched, in a few years, that can easily change.