Artificial intelligence is developing at such a rate that "super intelligent" machines may someday delete humans like spam, according to Elon Musk, the wunderkind billionaire CEO of technology companies Tesla and SpaceX.
Talking to Vanity Fair on Wednesday (8 October) at its New Establishment Summit in San Francisco, Musk said he believed that AI could have a "very bad effect" on humanity.
"I don't think anyone realizes how quickly artificial intelligence is advancing, particularly if [the machine is] involved in recursive self-improvement," he explained.
"And its utility function is something that's detrimental to humanity, then it will have a very bad effect."
The crowd laughed as Musk said: "If its [function] is just something like getting rid of e-mail spam and it determines the best way of getting rid of spam is getting rid of humans."
Musk's fear of artificial intelligence is well-documented, having earlier this year declared AI "potentially more dangerous than nukes."
Worth reading Superintelligence by Bostrom. We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 3, 2014
If Musk's fears sound to you like something out of sci-fi – like Skynet from The Terminator or the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica – then you're not alone.
Interviewer Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute, asked: "Do you think you maybe read too much science fiction?"
"Yes, that's possible. Probably," Musk responded. He later invoked The Matrix by claiming that the Summit he was attending may in fact be a "simulation."
Musk said: "There's a one in a billion chance that this is reality."
Musk also suggested that his well-known ambition to retire on Mars, one of the reasons why he founded SpaceX in 2002, would not save him from the inevitable AI revolution
He said: "More likely than not that if there's some apocalypse scenario, it may follow people from Earth."
Musk's musings of Mars followed SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell's announcement at the Summit that a reusable transport system for people to go to Mars is one of the company's chief aims.
He said: "If you can't reuse them then you have to build them from scratch on Mars or you won't get to come back."