Tesla Motors chief executive Elon Musk
Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, is concerned that creating intelligent computers will put humanity's survival at risk. Reuters

Developing artificial intelligence – a computer that can learn and think for itself, without human involvement – is like "summoning the demon" and could be humanity's "biggest existential threat," warns Tesla boss and PayPal billionaire Elon Musk.

Answering an audience question during an interview at the MIT AeroAstro Centennial Symposium, Musk warned that we "should think very carefully about artificial intelligence", adding: "If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it's probably that. So we need to be very careful with artificial intelligence."

The 43-year-old believes that "some regulatory oversight" at a national or international level is needed "to make sure we don't do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we're summoning the demon."

HAL-9000 was a 'puppy'

Musk, who also runs the SpaceX space transportation company, adds: "You know those stories where there's the guy with a pentagram and the holy water, and he's like, yeah he's sure he can control the demon? Doesn't work out."

In reply to a second question asking if Musk plans to develop a machine similar to HAL-9000 to land on Mars, Musk said the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey is "a puppy dog" compared to what could be created if AI regulation isn't enforced.

The whole interview can be watched below, while Musk's AI comment begins at the 1:07:20 mark.

This isn't the first time Musk has expressed his concern over AI, as in August he tweeted that it is "potentially more dangerous than nukes" in response to reading Nick Bostrom's book Superintelligence.

Musk's comments may sound hypocritical as they come after his Tesla electric car company announcing Autopilot, a feature which controls the steering, acceleration and braking of Tesla Model S cars by reading road signs and traffic conditions, as well as changing motorway lanes with just a tap of the indicator stalk.

Despite the technology being available in the coming months, Tesla believes fully driverless cars, such as those being developed by Google, are "still years away from becoming a reality".