How Elon Musk Is Leveraging His Tech Savvy & Wealth To Become An AI Overlord

“In terms of access to goods and services, I think AI will be ushering in an age of abundance.”

(Patrick Pleul-Pool/Getty Images)

Pick up any newspaper these days and there is a decent chance that on the front page you’ll be able to find an article about Artificial Intelligence, Elon Musk or both. In fact, right now perhaps no two topics garner more attention, passion and debate than the South African-born billionaire and the technology that’s on the verge of reshaping society in ways we still have yet to fathom.

This uncertainty was likely behind Musk’s recent request, along with dozens of other technology thought leaders, to pause advanced AI projects for at least six months while the industry, and society at large, has a chance to better understand the potential risks—along with the rewards—and ways to mitigate any issues that may arise.

After all, Artificial Intelligence is supposed to help society in countless ways, and it appears at these early stages to have the power to do so; but there are many unknowns. Musk’s comments should shake us out of our indifference, as the genius billionaire, as well as the rest of humanity, needs to consider the question from every angle.

Musk, one of the richest men in the world, has remained a constant in the public spotlight thanks to his purchase of Twitter, his increasingly ambitious projects with SpaceX, as well as the continued development and growth of Tesla as a worldwide EV leader.

Meanwhile, the recent developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI), such as those from OpenAI’s ChatGPT platform, continue to astonish and amaze the general public and media, as each day seemingly brings an advancement in the technology along with new ways to utilize it, from research to business, engineering and even art.

While Tesla, SpaceX and now Twitter grab much of the public’s attention regarding Musk, less known is the impact he’s had and insight he’s provided during the recent explosion of AI technologies after decades of theoretical progress.

So while Musk’s headline-grabbing businesses constantly produce newsworthy articles and deserve attention, it’s vitally important that we don’t allow the commotion and often uninformed commentary to distract us from the billionaire’s thoughts on Artificial Intelligence and everything that goes with it. In fact, we are not alone in feeling that he needs to be one of the top voices in the room.

When ChatGPT was presented to the public in late 2022, the software’s abilities and skill set readily became obvious, and it appeared to some to be a massive turning point for society and mankind’s relationship with computers. Suddenly, the general public wasn’t hearing vague stories about Artificial Intelligence in the news, or seeing sensationalized versions of it in popular science fiction, but was actually able to try it out for themselves.

(Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)

They were not disappointed. Ever since the release, not a week goes by without the public coming to a new realization of how AI is going to not just alter but change their lives entirely, or without the media covering it as such.

Musk certainly isn’t new to the field of Artificial Intelligence. Not only has he pioneered the use of AI (including Full Self-Driving or FSD) into his Tesla offerings, but he helped work on OpenAI in its early stages. At the time the company was a nonprofit seeking to develop AI and share it openly with the public.

Musk ended his association in 2018, with the explanation given at the time that the reason for his leaving was to avoid a conflict of interest between OpenAI’s work and the machine learning research being done by Tesla to develop autonomous driving.

So when in a recent interview Musk not only warned about the potential risks of AI but called for a regulatory agency to be established to oversee what companies are doing and ensure the technology is being developed responsibly, it caught people’s attention.

After all, Musk is well-known for pushing against many kinds of government restraint or interference, making his call for regulation and even the slowing down of technological progress somewhat unexpected and semi-uncharacteristic.

But it highlights multiple issues that both those working in these industries as well as the general public have been discovering with regards to Artificial Intelligence—namely the contradictions it conjures and the caution with which this has led humanity to take its first steps into this new realm. It is an immensely powerful tool, and conundrums seem inevitable, for the creators, for the public and even for Elon Musk.

These seemingly appear everywhere Artificial Intelligence is introduced, leaving even the enormously confident Musk teetering between excitement over the possibilities—“In terms of access to goods and services, I think AI will be ushering in an age of abundance,” he has said—and fears over the possible risks.

He has been heavily involved with AI in some regard for over a decade and so can be said to qualify as one of our foremost experts on the subject. He has spoken at conferences concerning the issues that AI would inevitably present, and has ostensibly earmarked money for organizations aimed at tackling this exact topic. Not least because Tesla has only accelerated its AI program, moving beyond its simply Autopilot and Full Self-Driving technologies for its vehicles, to making more general AI-led advancements.

Musk is certainly excited by the potential of AI to improve our planet and the standard of living for humankind, but he also acknowledges the massive unknowns that accompany this new technological era. So while he has clear concerns about the arrival and impact of AI, it’s often reassuring in a way to know that just like the rest of us, he can be uncertain about exactly how to proceed, and that such an intelligent person is focusing his attention on the issue.

Should there be more regulation or less? Should we develop as fast as possible as Musk has done in many of his businesses, or should we show restraint and slow down technological development until society has figured out which metaphorical guardrails need to be installed?

Musk’s thoughts on OpenAI’s content moderation policies have even led him to publicly state his intention to start a rival to ChatGPT, possibly called TruthGPT, that wouldn’t have the moderation and human intervention that Musk reportedly believes can run counter to free speech.

In addition to the continued AI development being done at Tesla, Musk has also founded a new AI company called X.AI Corp., aiming to forge his own AI firm to compete with the tech giants that have already invested many years and billions of dollars in their own AI programs, such as Google, and Microsoft.

With both SpaceX and Twitter as natural beneficiaries of the technology in the coming years, it is highly likely that Musk will proceed with development of AI in his companies (Tesla, X.AI Corp., etc.), while giving due considerations to the quandaries that arise. These issues are likely to be as pressing here on Earth as they would be on Mars, where Musk has been focusing SpaceX’s efforts to allow us to colonize the planet, thereby, the theory goes, increasing our odds of survival as a species.

The one thing Elon Musk has made clear is that this is an unprecedented and unique time in humanity’s history. He doesn’t merely believe this is similar to previous technological paradigm shifts, but that it would be highly inadvisable to proceed unabated without considering every possible outcome, and to ensure we ultimately benefit and—of course, profit from it.

No man can predict the future, but in terms of having been on the forefront of emerging technologies such as electric vehicles, space travel, solar energy, and more, Musk can clearly be said to be in a better position than most to help us find the way forward, evolve, and progress.