Earlier I posted a few tweets from Elon Musk’s talk at MIT today, in which he hit on topics including the possibility of a Mars mission—or maybe more accurately, a Mars colonization mission—via his company SpaceX.
He also shared his concerns about artificial intelligence, something he’s been discussing a lot lately—though this time he gave an even more dire warning about it than he had previously.
See below for more extended commentary from Musk’s nearly 90-minute talk, which was part of commemorating the 100th anniversary of its Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. And also check out this video with some of the highlights (video by Sarah Fisher / BostInno):
On taking on the aerospace establishment with SpaceX. “In terms of competitiveness, I think it mostly comes down to our pace of innovation—our pace of innovation is much, much faster than the big aerospace companies … That’s generally true of innovation—when it’s big companies versus small, the smaller [companies] are generally better at innovation … Smaller companies would just die if they didn’t try innovating.”
Humankind should have a goal of creating a self-sustaining civilization on Mars. A “mission” to Mars—for learning about the planet, getting photos, and so on—is “not the thing that fundamentally changes the future of humanity,” Musk said. Though there are plenty of problems to deal with on Earth, there ought to be “some small amount [of resources] given over to the establishment of a colony on Mars—less than 1 percent of our resources. It’s not as important as, say, healthcare. But it’s more important than, say, cosmetics.”
“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. Our biggest existential threat is probably that.”
Why the future of humanity could be at stake. Humanity must decide whether it’s going to be a single-planet species or a multi-planet species, Musk said. “Multi-planet will last a lot longer, propagate far longer” than would a humankind restricted to one planet. It’s “planetary redundancy—backing up the biosphere. We’ve got all of our eggs in one basket here … Some risks are extremely difficult to mitigate, and some we ultimately may not be able to mitigate … The question is, should we [colonize Mars] now, or wait for some point in future. I think the wise moment is to do it now.”
Humans have an “open window” for inter-planetary colonization for the first, and maybe the last, time in Earth’s history. “We hope the window will be open forever, but it may also close. If you look at the history of technology, [such as in] ancient Egypt, they built incredible, giant pyramids, and then forgot how to build them … There’s clearly been a cycle with technology.” Hopefully the current momentum of technology can continue upward indefinitely, Musk said, “but maybe it doesn’t. Maybe there’s some bad thing that happens. For 1 percent of our resources, we can buy life insurance for life collectively. And I think that would be a good thing to do.”
The risks of using artificial intelligence. “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. Our biggest existential threat is probably that … There should be some regulatory oversight at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like, he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.”
Elon Musk’s biggest inspirations in fiction. Star Trek—partly because it depicts a non-apocalyptic future, unlike so much of other science fiction, Musk said. Star Wars—the first movie he ever saw in a theater. Lord of the Rings—his favorite books. “Even though they’re kind of anti-technology, they’re still great,” Musk said.
See related: Quiz: How Much Do You Know about Elon Musk?