Elon Musk says the difference between human intellect and AI is comparable to the difference between chimpanzees and humans

Elon MuskTesla CEO Elon Musk gestures during a conversation with legendary game designer Todd Howard (not pictured) at the E3 gaming convention in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 13, 2019.REUTERS/Mike Blake

  • Elon Musk is the CEO of three companies: Tesla, Neuralink, and SpaceX. The second of those three, Neuralink, is focused on human-computer interfaces for artificial intelligence in people.
  • There's a good reason for that: Elon Musk believes that AI will be "much smarter than the smartest human," and that puts human beings at a tremendous disadvantage.
  • In a conversation with Alibaba CEO Jack Ma at the World AI Conference in Shanghai, China, Musk explained the evolutionary step that AI represents: "Can a chimpanzee really understand humans? Not really. We just seem like strange aliens. They mostly just care about other chimpanzees. And this will be how it is, more or less."
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What comes to mind when you hear the words "artificial intelligence"?

Perhaps you think of Apple's digital assistant, Siri, or Rosie the Robot from "The Jetsons"? Perhaps you think of Haley Joel Osment as a robot boy in the 2001 film, "AI"?

Artificial Intelligence (movie) - Haley Joel OsmentWarner Bros./Dreamworks

Elon Musk thinks you're looking at it all wrong.

"I think generally people underestimate the capability of AI - they sort of think it's a smart human," Musk said at a talk with Alibaba CEO Jack Ma at the World AI Conference in Shanghai, China this week. "But it's going to be much more than that. It will be much smarter than the smartest human."

For context, Musk compared the difference between AI and humans to the difference between humans and chimpanzees.

Jane Goodall with chimpanzeeJean-Marc Bouju/AP

"Can a chimpanzee really understand humans? Not really," he said. "We just seem like strange aliens. They mostly just care about other chimpanzees. And this will be how it is, more or less."

Moreover, he couched that context in optimism: "In fact, if the difference is only that small, that would be amazing - probably it's much, much greater." It's this stark difference in intellectual capacity between AI and human beings that has Musk worried for the future of our species.

"What do you do with a situation like that? I'm not sure. I hope they're nice," he said.

That's why, he said, he founded his company Neuralink. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em - that's what Neuralink is about. Can we go along for the ride with AI?"

Check out the full video of the talk with Musk and Ma right here.

Get the latest Alibaba stock price here.

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