After a busy few days hosting dozens of government leaders, tech executives and other experts at a summit on the dangers of artificial intelligence, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had one last meeting on Thursday evening: a meeting with Elon Musk.
Mr Musk, the ubiquitous tech billionaire, was in town for the AI security summit, which Mr Sunak hosted at Bletchley Park, in the countryside where Alan Turing helped break the Enigma code used by the Nazis during World War II. has helped.
Public officials including Vice President Kamala Harris and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attended the summit, as well as technology leaders such as Sam Altman, head of OpenAI; and LinkedIn investor and co-founder Reid Hoffman.
But only Mr Musk, a man with growing geopolitical influence through his control of Tesla and SpaceX, was given such special treatment by the British Prime Minister.
At Lancaster House, a former royal residence near Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace, Mr Sunak interviewed Mr Musk about the potential dangers of AI and, if anything, what the world can do to prepare itself. . there was discussion stream on X, Mr Musk’s social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
“There is a strong possibility that AI will be a force for good,” Mr Musk said. The problem, he said, is that the chance of things getting much worse is “not zero.” “Artificial intelligence is evolving faster than any technology ever seen in history,” he said.
Mr Sunak said he believed AI posed many risks, but he played down some potential negative impacts. When he faced many voters concerned about automation and job losses, Mr Sunak said he believed AI would improve productivity, create jobs and help workers rather than replace them. Will serve as “co-pilot” – a view not shared by many labor unions.
The pairing of two people is strange. Mr Sunak is a former Goldman Sachs banker whose biggest political advantage in becoming prime minister was that he would be a stable pairing after the shabby leadership of his predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. In contrast, Mr Musk, known for prior social media posts and deliberately provocative statements, appears to thrive more in situations of improvisation and chaos.
What both have in common is that they have been subjected to intense scrutiny.
Mr Sunak’s grip on power is in doubt. His Conservative Party, which will have to hold elections by January 2025, He has ruled for 13 years and is being held responsible for public services under pressure after a stagnant economy, worker strikes and years of government cuts. Mr Musk has faced criticism for, among other things, promoting racist, anti-Semitic and hate speech on X since he bought the platform last year.
Mr Sunak, who studied at Stanford University and has spoken fondly of his time in Silicon Valley, has tried to use the program at Bletchley Park to establish Britain as a global leader on AI. Of course, the event yielded little in terms of concrete policy, but many attendees said it started a global conversation about the need to protect AI.
Mr Musk was probably the biggest name in attendance. On Wednesday, he participated in several closed sessions and posed for photographs.
“People would come up and say, ‘Can I just take a selfie?’ Then really someone else will immediately say, ‘Oh, can I get one too,'” said Max Tegmark, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who attended the event and has known Mr. Musk for years.
Mr Sunak appears to be equally taken by Mr Musk. He began the conversation with a laudatory quote from Bill Gates about Mr Musk being one of the great inventors of his generation.
“What kinds of things should governments like ours do?” Mr Sunak asked respectfully at one point.
The audience included a mix of British executives and business executives, including Demis Hassabis, chief executive of Google’s AI lab DeepMind. Music artist will.i.am was sitting in the front row.
Some saw Mr Sunak’s talks with Mr Musk as a subtle effort to lift Britain’s standing with entrepreneurs and tech companies at a time when the country’s economy remains sluggish. Earlier at a press conference on Thursday, a British journalist asked Mr Sunak whether the meeting was about AI or about trying to lure a Tesla battery plant to Britain. (Mr Sunak praised Mr Musk’s expertise about AI)
“He wants the UK to attract investment,” said Maritje Schaake, international policy director at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, who moderated a discussion at the AI Security Summit. He said, the Musk interview seems somewhat like a media stunt.
Mr Sunak’s conversations with Mr Musk sometimes veered towards science fiction. Mr Musk outlined a future in which computers would surpass human intelligence and people would not have to work. At another point, he discussed building humanoid robots that would require an off switch.
In an unexpectedly heartfelt moment, Mr Musk said AI systems could become so advanced that it could become a person’s “great friend” by remembering conversations and knowing their likes and dislikes. She said her son has a learning disability and has trouble making friends. “An AI friend would be great for him,” he said.