Ma vs Musk: Tech tycoons spar on future of AI

Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd Executive Chairman Jack Ma shake hands at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, China, August 29, 2019.. (Reuters)
Updated 29 August 2019
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Ma vs Musk: Tech tycoons spar on future of AI

  • Opportunity or threat? The entrepreneurs offer their competing visions

SHANGHAI: Jack Ma believes artificial intelligence poses no threat to humanity, but Elon Musk called that "famous last words" as the billionaire tech tycoons faced off Thursday in an occasionally animated debate on futurism in Shanghai.
The Chinese co-founder of Alibaba and the maverick industrialist behind Tesla and SpaceX frequently pulled pained expressions and raised eyebrows as they kicked off an AI conference with a dialogue that challenged attendees to keep up, veering from technology to Mars, death, and jobs.
However, the hot topic in the hour-long talk was AI, which has provoked increasing concern among scientists such as late British cosmologist Stephen Hawking who warned that it will eventually turn on and "annihilate" humanity.
"Computers may be clever, but human beings are much smarter," Ma said. "We invented the computer -- I've never seen a computer invent a human being."
While insisting that he is "not a tech guy," the e-commerce mogul added: "I think AI can help us understand humans better. I don't think it's a threat."
Musk countered: "I don't know man, that's like, famous last words."
He said the "rate of advancement of computers in general is insane", sketching out a vision in which super-fast, artificially intelligent devices eventually tire of dealing with dumb, slow humans.
"The computer will just get impatient if nothing else. It will be like talking to a tree," Musk said.
Mankind's hope lies in "going along for the ride" by harnessing some of that computing power, Musk said, as he offered an unabashed plug for his Neuralink Corporation.
Neuralink aims to develop implantable brain-machine interface devices, which conjures images of "The Matrix", whose characters download software to their brains that instantly turns them into martial arts masters.
"Right now we are already a cyborg because we are so well-integrated with our phones and our computers," said Musk, 48.
"The phone is like an extension of yourself. If you forget your phone, its like a missing limb."
But humanity will also have more leisure time in the future as AI takes on much of the burden of transporting, feeding, and thinking for earthlings, said Ma.
"People could work as little as three days a week, four hours a day with the help of technology advances," he said.
Ma, 54, who steps down next month as head of Alibaba Group, questioned Musk's push to develop spacecraft that could help us colonise Mars.
"We need a hero like you, but we need more heroes like us improving things on earth," Ma said.
Musk countered that we must master interplanetary travel in case earth becomes uninhabitable.
Scientists like Hawking have said the same, citing the risk of nuclear war, a devastating virus, global warming or asteroid collision.
But not to worry: both agreed that human mortality is a good thing as each generation brings new ideas to the global challenges we face.
"It's great to die," Ma said, with Musk adding: "That's probably true."


Airbus revises up jet demand, warns of 'lose-lose' tariff war

Updated 10 min 55 sec ago

Airbus revises up jet demand, warns of 'lose-lose' tariff war

  • Airbus expects airlines and leasing companies to take delivery of 39,210 new passenger jets

LONDON: Airbus raised its 20-year forecast for jetliner demand on Wednesday despite expected slower growth in traffic, as it predicts airlines will replace ageing fleets with smaller, more fuel-efficient new planes.
The industry faces a squall of new pressures from trade tensions, the partial unwinding of globalisation and an anti-flying campaign from climate activists, notably in Europe.
Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer voiced alarm about the prospect of a tit-for-tat tariff war between the United States and Europe after the World Trade Organization signalled that Washington can impose sanctions in a long-running dispute over aircraft subsidies.
The European planemaker expects demand for new planes to be led by Asia, where the industry has been enjoying a boom in demand due to the growth of cities and a burgeoning Asian middle class.
Demand from China is expected to leapfrog the United States and Western Europe, while India and new manufacturers like Vietnam are growing the fastest.
In its annual long-term forecast that sheds light on world trends, Airbus predicted the world's fleet would more than double to 47,680 jets by 2038.
Airbus expects airlines and leasing companies to take delivery of 39,210 new passenger jets and freighters over the next two decades compared to 37,389 previously forecast, as airlines seek to tap into the fuel savings offered by newer jets.
It shaved its 20-year forecast for average traffic growth to 4.3% a year from 4.4%.
'LOSE-LOSE' TRADE BATTLE
Airline traffic growth has slowed this year amid trade tensions between the United States and China.
"Increased protectionism and other geopolitical risks remain a concern," Airbus said in its Global Market Forecast.
Scherer said possible sanctions related to the dispute with Washington over aircraft subsidies had so far had no impact on U.S. demand for Airbus jets.
"Ultimately they will have an impact on airplanes and therefore the price of tickets and that is not good. If there is an impact, the same impact will happen here in Europe," he said, referring to the likelihood of European countermeasures.
"It is a lose-lose impact," Scherer told reporters.
Touting the industry's record in cutting emissions, in a week that Swedish teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg pressed the U.S. Congress for action on climate change, Airbus said the industry could still achieve carbon-neutral growth because new planes are so efficient.
Environmental groups backing a global "climate strike" say more radical steps are needed to avert a disaster.
"We are on a path to de-carbonise but we can't do it alone," Scherer said, calling for investment in sustainable biofuels.
Airbus revised up its demand forecast for the industry's most-sold single-aisle jets by 4% to 29,720 planes but cut the medium segment including its A330neo by 2% to 5,370.
It followed U.S. rival Boeing in scrapping separate forecasts for the world's largest aircraft after deciding to halt production of the Airbus A380 due to weak demand.
It now includes these aircraft with the largest twin-engined jets, with the resulting combined category up 22% to 4,120 jets.
Airbus raised its 20-year forecast for services like repairs, training and cabin upgrades to $4.9 trillion from $4.6 trillion.
Once focused mainly on building their jets, Airbus, Boeing and other manufacturers are stepping up competition for a slice of this market to gain access to lucrative recurring revenues.