Debates around Artifical Intelligence polarizes industry heavyweights

The buzz word in the industry at the moment is artificial intelligence (AI). It looks like it is going to be a key lever that will drive the future progression of the Fourth Industrial Revolution as computers show their value to businesses.

But is it a good thing? Two of the world’s biggest names in technology, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, went toe-to-toe regarding the issue presenting two differing views on the topic.

Ever the pragmatist, Musk said that while AI can add significant value, it needs to be regulated and controls need to be put in place to ensure that AI makes a positive impact responsibly. Zuckerberg labelled Musk a doomsday prophet saying companies need to run with AI as freely as possible.

Fuel to the fire
An article on pointed out that the debate did not stop there.

During a Facebook Live broadcast, a person who said they had recently watched an interview with Musk in which he said his largest fear for the future was AI asked Zuckerberg about his thoughts.

“I have pretty strong opinions on this,” Zuckerberg said, “I am really optimistic. I am an optimistic person in general. I think you can build things and the world gets better. With AI especially, I am really optimistic, and I think that people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios … I do not understand it. It is really negative, and in some ways, I actually think it is pretty irresponsible.”

Zuckerberg added that he believed AI would save lives by making cars safer, and he highlighted how AI was already helping to diagnose medical conditions and match people with the right treatment.

“Whenever I hear people saying AI is going to hurt people in the future, I think: Yeah, 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. If you are arguing against AI, then you are arguing against safer cars that are not going to have accidents, and you are arguing against being able to better diagnose people when they are sick.”

Not thinking alike
An article posted on showed that great minds do not always think alike.

The article pointed out that Tesla and SpaceX CEO Musk, who is not afraid to speak his mind, shared some thoughts via Twitter that essentially bashed Mark Zuckerberg’s understanding of AI.

Facebook and other tech giants are scrambling to build this kind of technology, and Zuckerberg even built an AI assistant to help control his Palo Alto home. Musk, on the other hand, thinks AI could ultimately destroy mankind and send everyone scrambling to Mars to avoid machine overlords.

So both men feel strongly about the technology, but in his tweet on Tuesday, Musk dismissed Zuckerberg’s knowledge of AI as “limited,” a pretty sick burn in the world of super-intelligent tech geeks.

Why is Musk so pessimistic about AI? The article pointed out that when Musk spoke at a meeting of American governors earlier in July, he warned that AI was the biggest risk we face as a civilization; he further urged the government to adopt AI legislation before robots start walking down the street murdering people.

This is pretty drastic, but let us put it into the South African context. The main purpose of AI is to eventually replace jobs that require basic human skills. South Africa’s current unemployment rate is 26.6% of the working population. Let us say that AI replaces a further 20% of the working population, which is entirely possible, all of a sudden, close to half of the workforce in the country is unemployed.

So in our context, AI has the potential to either do good or reduce people to abject poverty. This reminds me of an old African saying: the poor cannot sleep because they are hungry, the rich cannot sleep because the poor is awake. Musk’s vison of robots walking down the street murdering people will take on a completely different look in the South African context. Anarchy will be the order of the day if AI replaces jobs on a major scale in this country.

No understanding
Do Musk and Zuckerberg truly understand AI? A report on suggests not.

The article points out that there are a couple of amusing ironies about Zuckerberg’s comments, too. First of all, one of them was the exact same argument that Musk himself made in reference to self-driving cars. He blamed negative media for highlighting problems with these AI-driven machines, and he said criticisms of them were tantamount to killing people. So, obviously, musk believes AI is great for his own companies while posing an existential threat when used by others. Or maybe he does not realize that autonomous cars are guided by AI?

Arstechnica added that the other irony here is that Facebook has been marketing several allegedly AI-driven features that are actually powered by people. The company keeps claiming that it will be moderating and recommending news using AI, but it has had a number of face palm-level failures in which AI posted fake news. Arguably, the Facebook AI experiment made the world a much worse place.

On the other hand
Plus, Facebook is not using AI very much. The article pointed out that nearly all Facebook moderation is actually done by thousands of contract workers, often outside the US, who are not protected by labour laws that other Facebook workers enjoy.

Right now, AI aren’t taking our jobs. Instead, companies are giving those jobs to contractors who are cheaper and aren’t eligible for benefits.

So it sounds like neither Musk nor Zuckerberg truly understands AI. That is because even AI researchers disagree on what AI means. Some use AI to mean neural networks and deep learning, while others think AI is some kind of human-equivalent creature. The big bad for the Musk camp is called “Artificial Superintelligence,” but cognitive scientists have no good working definition of intelligence, either.

Plus, computer scientists have demonstrated repeatedly that AI is no better than its datasets, and the datasets that humans produce are full of errors and biases. Whatever AI we produce will be as flawed and confused as humans are. As Kevin Kelly put it in a recent essay, AI has become a “cargo cult” that’s more mysticism than science.