When it comes to the future, Elon Musk’s best-case scenario for humanity sounds a lot like Sci-Fi Socialism.
The world’s richest man, who for years has warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence, lately has been painting a more utopian vision for what could occur when supersmart robots are able to replace everyday workers.
“We will be in an age of abundance,” Musk said this month.
He was speaking publicly with U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who like many world leaders is trying to navigate the fast-developing technology’s effect on work and life. Sunak said he believes the act of work gives meaning, and had some concerns about Musk’s prediction.
“I think work is a good thing, it gives people purpose in their lives,” Sunak told Musk. “And if you then remove a large chunk of that, what does that mean?”
That is the question.
So often when Musk talks about the threats of AI he is describing world-ending scenarios that seem straight from “The Terminator” movie or other science fiction works where robots turn on their creators.
More recently, in talking about the technology positively, Musk likes to point to another work of Sci-Fi to describe how AI could change our world: a series of books by the late-, self-described-socialist author Iain Banks that revolve around a post-scarcity society that includes superintelligent AI.
In a way, Musk is also talking up his own book of business.
Part of the enthusiasm behind the sky-high valuation of Tesla, where he is chief executive, comes from his predictions for the auto company’s abilities to develop humanoid robots—dubbed Optimus—that can be deployed for everything from personal assistants to factory workers. He’s also founded an AI startup, dubbed xAI, that he said aims to develop its own superhuman intelligence, even as some are skeptical of that possibility.
“Digital super intelligence combined with robotics will essentially make goods and services close to free in the long term,” Musk said at a conference in July.
Musk has cast his work to develop humanoid robots as an attempt to solve labor issues, saying there aren’t enough workers and cautioning that low birthrates will be even more problematic.
“I wouldn’t worry about…putting people out of a job,” Musk said last year during a TED talk presentation. “We’re actually going to have—and already do have—a massive shortage of labor. So, I think we will have not people out of work but actually still a shortage of labor—even in the future.”
Instead, Musk predicts robots will be taking jobs that are uncomfortable, dangerous or tedious.