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."


Iraq pledges full compliance with OPEC+ oil cuts

Updated 07 August 2020

Iraq pledges full compliance with OPEC+ oil cuts

  • Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, the Saudi Arabian energy minister, and his Iraqi counterpart, Ihsan Ismail, reaffirmed their commitment to the cuts
  • Under tough economic pressure, Iraq had struggled to meet the full cuts, but Ismail promised to reach 100 percent this month

DUBAI: Iraq has pledged to meet in full its obligations under the OPEC+ oil production cuts that have been credited with rebalancing global crude markets after the mayhem of April’s “Black Monday” when prices crashed around the world.

In a telephone call between Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, Saudi Arabian energy minister, and his Iraqi counterpart, Ihsan Ismail, the two men reaffirmed their commitment to the cuts, which have helped to pull the oil price back from historic lows.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, has more than doubled in the past three months.

Under tough economic pressure, Iraq had struggled to meet the full cuts, but Ismail promised to reach 100 percent this month. Iraq has now committed itself to an ambitious program of compensation to make up for past overproduction.

Iraq will further reduce production by 400,000 barrels per day this month and next, Ismail said, bringing its total cut to 1.25 million barrels daily. That level of cuts could be adjusted when final estimates of compliance are assessed by the six “secondary sources” that monitor OPEC+ output.

“The two ministers stressed that efforts by OPEC+ countries toward meeting production cuts, and the extra cuts under the compensation regime, will enhance oil market stability, help accelerate the rebalancing of global oil markets, and send a constructive signal to the market,” a joint statement added.

Prince Abdulaziz thanked Ismail for his efforts to improve Iraq’s compliance with the agreement.

Iraq had been the biggest laggard in the move toward 100 percent compliance by the 23 members of the OPEC+ alliance.

Officials in Riyadh told Arab News that Iraqi compliance had reached about 90 percent, a high level by the country’s previous standards but still short of the new targets.

Saudi Arabia has been forcefully advocating full compliance with the targets in an effort to remove oil from the global market as demand is still badly affected by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The oil market will be under the spotlight later this month when the joint ministerial monitoring committee of OPEC+ energy ministers convenes virtually in the most recent of the monthly meetings set up to oversee the state of the global industry.

Oil had another strong week on global markets, breaking through the $45 barrier for the first time since early March on signs that the glut in US oil stocks was easing, as well as reductions in the amount of “floating crude” stored in tankers on the world’s oceans.

The price spiked on news of the Beirut explosion, which some analysts believed could herald a deterioration in regional security and a threat to oil exports.

Brent crude was trading at $44.70 on international markets.