Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are embroiled in a geeky spat over artificial intelligence and robots

Lynsey Barber
Follow Lynsey
NRL Dragons Training
Two tech titans have different views on AI technology (Source: Getty)

We can officially hand out the award for geekiest fight of the year.

Two of the most influential entrepreneurs of the last decade, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and serial entrepreneur Elon Musk, have entered into a war of words over the future of robots and artificial intelligence.

The pair have taken opposing sides in the argument over the increasingly realistic technology and its impact on society.

In the blue corner is Musk, with his "danger Will Robinson" warnings which stretch back to 2014 and feed into the Terminator Skynet movie-style narrative.

Read more: Aviva and Founders Factory are betting on these five fintech startups

Musk's views have earned him a Luddite of the year award, but he's not alone in raising the alarm. Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis are among those to flag concerns.

Late on Tuesday night, Musk took a swipe at Zuck personally, tweeting that his "understanding of the subject is limited".

That was in response to a video posted by Zuck on Sunday, in which he branded Musk's warnings about AI "irresponsible".

“I have pretty strong opinions on this," he said, responding to a question about how he felt about Musk's repeated warnings..

I am optimistic. And I think people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios – I just, I don’t understand it. It’s really negative and in some ways I actually think it is pretty irresponsible.

In the next five to 10 years, AI is going to deliver so many improvements in the quality of our lives. Whenever I hear people saying AI is going to hurt people in the future, I think yeah, you know, technology can generally always be used for good and bad, and you need to be careful about how you build it and you need to be careful about what you build and how it is going to be used. But people who are arguing for slowing down the process of building AI, I just find that really questionable. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that.

In the red corner, Zuckerberg's vision of AI, robots and their influence is clearly a less dystopian one. He famously built his own AI-based home assistant as part of a new year's resolution which was dubbed Jarvis after the one in Marvel movie Iron Man.

Read more: Microsoft's top AI boss on acquiring startups: "We'd love another Swiftkey"

And Facebook itself has a world-renowned AI research centre based in Paris. FAIR (Facebook AI Research Centre) chief Yann Le Cunn commented on the spat (where else but on Facebook), saying:

"Some of us in the field may have technical disagreements, but it is surprising how much we agree upon. The disagreements are mostly about rather philosophical issues that have no short-term relevance. We are remarkably aligned when it comes to short and medium-term questions."

He also suggested that Zuckerberg's view is the mainstream one shared by the industry, while it's Musk "and a few others who hold the contrarian views on the topic".

Read more: How DeepMind's laying foundations for artificial intelligence in the NHS

No one is saying that there is no issue with AI safety and ethics. It is precisely to discuss these issues that a number of us created the Partnership on AI and why our employers are funding it.

But almost everyone I know thinks that calling for regulation because super-intelligent AI might take over the world soon is either crazy or hugely premature. It's sort of like calling for the creation of the Federal Aviation Administration in 1870, three decades before the first heavier-than-air controlable flights occured and before people knew how to do it (but after they knew it was possible in principle).

Zuckerberg also added in a later update praising Facebook's AI researchers for winning an award why he's so optimistic. He said:

One reason I'm so optimistic about AI is that improvements in basic research improve systems across so many different fields -- from diagnosing diseases to keep us healthy, to improving self-driving cars to keep us safe, and from showing you better content in News Feed to delivering you more relevant search results. Every time we improve our AI methods, all of these systems get better. I'm excited about all the progress here and it's potential to make the world better.

It's not the first time the two have voiced differing views on AI, but it is the first time they have clashed so personally.

In typically mysterious fashion, Musk tweeted: "Movie on the subject coming soon..." in reply to someone suggesting he needed to argue his points better to win over sceptics.

Killer Robots: The Movie, directed by Musk, may be hitting screens soon.

City AM Who would win in a fight?

Related articles