When Elon Musk and Jack Ma debated on AI technology

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Elon Musk and Jack Ma face off over artificial intelligence (AI) at the 2019 World Artificial Intelligence Conference. (Image source: Bloomberg)

Two famous technology entrepreneurs Jack Ma and Elon Musk recently debated about artificial intelligence (AI) at the 2019 World Artificial Intelligence Conference held in Shanghai, China. They touched upon the risks involved and the benefits of AI in an awkward 45 minutes-long conversation and it was evident that each of them has a different vision of the future.

While Musk asserted that humans underestimated how powerful AI technology would become. “I think generally, people underestimate the capability of AI. They sort of think like, it’s a smart human. But it’s, it’s really much—it’s going to be much more than that. It’ll be much smarter than the smartest human,” Musk said while explaining that about how limitations of humans and exponential growth of machines would lead AI to become a God-like force.

To this, Ma responded by saying, “I’m not a tech guy. I think I’m all about life. I think AI is going to open a new chapter of the society of the world that people try to understand ourselves better, rather than the outside world. And it’s so difficult to predict the future.” He explained how modern AI technology can make life better for people today.

Later Musk went on to explain that he feels it is possible now to inhabit other planets, and it is crucial that humans do so as soon as possible. To this, Ma responded that though he admires Musk’s courage for exploring Mars, he loves the efforts of the people who are improving the Earth. “It’s great to send 1 million people to Mars but we have to care about the 7.4 billion people on the earth. How can we make the world more sustainable?”

The debate went back-and-forth with Musk saying that humans should spend a small number of Earth’s resources and plan on putting people on Mars. “I’m talking about less than 1 percent of Earth‘s resources should be dedicated to making life multi-planetary, or making consciousness multi-planetary.”

Eventually, the continuous love of Musk for settlement in space eventually got Ma disinterested, prompting him to change to another topic.

While Elon Musk is a billionaire who wants to solve the biggest problems of humans possible by engineering the future technology, Jack Ma, on the other hand, is another billionaire who is an optimist and wants to solve the problems which are faced by the Earth’s people presently by the development of the present AI technology. These extremely different approaches serve completely different ends.

In one of the responses to Musk, Ma said, “We need heroes like you. But we need more heroes like us, working hard on the earth, improving things every day.”

The conference had executives from around 300 companies including US-based technology firms Intel, Microsoft, IBM and Qualcomm and also various scientists and scholars from across the world.