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

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."


Oil retreats in face of renewed coronavirus uncertainty

Updated 22 February 2020

Oil retreats in face of renewed coronavirus uncertainty

  • G20 finance leaders to meet in Saudi Arabia at the weekend to discuss risks to the global economy
  • OPEC+ has been withholding supply to support prices and many analysts expect an extension or deepening of the curbs

LONDON: Oil prices fell on Friday as weak Asian data and a rise in new coronavirus cases fuelled uncertainty about the economic outlook while leading crude producers appeared to be in no rush to curb output.

Brent crude was down $1.56, or 2.6 percent, at $57.75 in afternoon trade, while U.S. crude dropped $1.25, or 2.3 percent, to $52.63.

"With Brent failing to breach the $60 level on Thursday despite better than expected U.S. oil inventory data, rising market uncertainty is dragging down oil prices on Friday," said UBS analyst Giovanni Staunovo.

"Market participants who benefited from the price rise in recent days might prefer not to go into the weekend with a long position."

 

China reports rise in coronavirus cases.

Japan factory activity shrinks at fastest pace since 2012.

Russia says early OPEC+ meeting no longer makes sense.

Finance leaders from the Group of 20 major economies meet in Saudi Arabia at the weekend to discuss risks to the global economy after new Asian economic and health data kept investors on guard.

Beijing reported an uptick in coronavirus cases on Friday and South Korea reported 100 new cases, doubling its infections. In Japan, meanwhile, more than 80 people have tested positive for the virus.

Factory activity in Japan registered its steepest contraction in seven years in February, hurt by fallout from the outbreak. 

"We still believe that the market is likely to trade lower from current levels, given the scale of the surplus over the first half of this year, and the need for the market to send a signal to OPEC+ that they must take further action at their meeting in early March," said ING analyst Warren Patterson.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Thursday that global oil producers understood it would no longer make sense for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies to meet before the planned gathering.

The group, known as OPEC+, has been withholding supply to support prices and many analysts expect an extension or deepening of the curbs.