Musk warns AI has potential to reduce humanity to the status of monkeys

In a recent HBO interview with Axios co-founders Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, Elon Musk said he believed it will be necessary for humans to merge with AI.  Calling on the analogy of what humans have done to other primates, reducing their populations and forcing them to live in cages, he warned that as AI gets smarter, it will eventually overtake biological intelligence and gain the potential to destroy humanity.

The eccentric founder of Tesla and SpaceX went on to explain that his neuroscience company, Neuralink, is busy developing a way for the human brain to “achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence.”  Having a link to the AI extension of ourselves would make everyone “hyper-smart,” says Musk.  The goal is “to achieve a sort of democratization of intelligence, such that it is not monopolistically held in a purely digital form by governments and large corporations.”

Musk is aiming to achieve “electron to neuron interface at a micro level.”  The technology would take inspiration from spinal cord injuries, where scientists are currently experimenting with implanting electrodes to restore some voluntary movement.  Neuralink was founded in 2016 and has some of the brightest minds working on the technology, which Musk expects to be ready for use in around ten years.

AI will soon take over, says Musk

Musk leaned heavily on his typical AI doomsday predictions during the interview, citing the dangers of the cheap and easy AI technology that’s already available to the masses (for example, assassin drones), as well as AI’s potential for creating highly targeted propaganda.  He criticized the slow pace with which the US government is acting to create ethical laws for AI, saying that if we don’t do something about it soon, we won’t be able to contain the threat presented by AI.  In an interview with Joe Rogan, the frustrated Musk complained, “I tried to convince people to slow down AI, to regulate AI... This was futile.  I tried for years.  Nobody listened.”  In light of this, he says, “the merge scenario with AI is the one that seems like probably the best...  If you can’t beat it, join it.”

Musk has been vocal in the past about the dangers of AI, warning us to slow down with research and development until we were ready to deal with the ethical consequences such as job losses.  Together with more than 100 robotics and AI experts, he penned an open letter to the United Nations last year, pleading for them to protect us from the dangers of lethal autonomous weapons.  And in a documentary released earlier this year, Musk referred to AI as an “immortal dictator, from which we could never escape.”  According to him, only by merging with AI do we have a chance at ensuring “the future constitutes the sum of the will of humanity.”

Is merging AI with humans as ethical as Musk makes it sound?

The threats that Musk cites are arguably quite realistic, and it’s true we should definitely be taking quicker steps to prevent unethical use of AI.  But is a human-AI merger the right answer?  Musk is right when he says that considering how much we rely on our smartphones, computers and IoT devices, we’re basically already cognitively dependent on AI anyway: and look where that’s gotten us!  Every couple of months brings up a new scandal about hacked user data and privacy invasions.  Every time there’s an important election, the bots somehow seem to infiltrate all the social media channels and sway the outcome.  Is it really a good idea to let technology one step closer, into the private recesses of our brains, where we conceal our innermost thoughts?  It’s all very nice to say that infusing citizens with AI would help keep power away from governments and large corporations, but I’m not so convinced they wouldn’t find a way in anyway.  And if smart cars can get hacked, can’t “smart” humans get hacked – and controlled?

It’s also highly probable that many people won’t be comfortable with the idea of hooking up their brains to AI and will choose to make do with their biological intelligence.  In this case, we’ll have half the population wandering around with virtually infinite brainpower, and the other half – the 100% human half – at a disadvantage.  This poses problems reminiscent of your worst science fiction nightmares, not to mention every war ever.


AI is becoming a bigger and bigger part of our lives, there’s no question about it.  But is human-AI fusion really the only ethical way forward?