Elon Musk and Jack Ma Debate AI at World AI Conference In Shanghai

Jack Ma and Elon Musk at World AI Conference in Shanghai (Source: Reuters)

Two titans of global technology entrepreneurship, Elon Musk and Jack Ma, shared a stage on August 29, to talk about the future of humanity, through the lens of technology and AI.

Overall, the dialogue was not very fluid, as Musk and Ma did not interact with each other frequently, instead delivering alternating monologues on various topics related to future technologies.

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Both spoke about the impending Fourth Industrial revolution, when artificial intelligence, big data and machine learning will fundamentally redefine what it means to be human. On the impact of computers becoming more intelligent, the two disagreed on the repercussions on human occupations. Jack Ma extolled that while computers may be “more clever” humans are actually “smarter” because they learn from experience, and have the capacity for emotional intelligence that computers lack. Ma explained that humans invented the computer, and he had never heard of a computer inventing a human being. Musk replied, “Yeah definitely not.”

Musk disagreed with Ma’s assertion, challenging the Alibaba founder to name a task that a human could do better than a computer. Instead, Musk’s philosophy was that computers will become more powerful than humans can be, and the sooner that we integrate computers and humans together the better. This led Musk to mention one of his companies Neuralink which aims to augment human’s mental capacity with AI technology.

In defense of his idea that computers are more intelligent than humans, Musk also said, “I mean right now your cell phone could crush the world champion at chess, literally. Trying to beat a computer at GO would be like fighting Zeus, its not going to work— hopeless.” Jack Ma responded that these types of contests, such as chess or GO are not how we should measure humans against computers, likening such comparisons to someone trying to outrun a car when automobiles were first invented.

Musk and Ma both agreed that the overpopulated theory was outdated, and what they were more concerned about was something that Elon Musk called “population collapse”. Citing the declining birth rate in China, Ma explained that the overall population will decrease at an accelerating rate, which Musk agreed with.

Overall the talk provided some good insight into the way different industry leaders are thinking about and preparing for the technology revolution brought about by artificial intelligence. The oration style’s of Elon Musk and Jack Ma were very different, as Jack Ma does not have a computer science or engineering background, while Elon Musk is more well-versed in the technical details of the impending revolution. However, both Musk and Ma seemed optimistic in the innovative abilities of human’s to create a benevolent future with artificial intelligence.