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He forges gleaming steel into sensuous Tesla electric cars with such elegant lines that even the nitpicking Steve Jobs would have been hard-pressed to find fault. When Musk visited secretary of defense Ashton Carter last summer, he mischievously tweeted that he was at the Pentagon to talk about designing a Tony Stark-style “flying metal suit.” Sitting in traffic in L. in December, getting bored and frustrated, he tweeted about creating the Boring Company to dig tunnels under the city to rescue the populace from “soul-destroying traffic.” By January, according to , Musk had assigned a senior Space X engineer to oversee the plan and had started digging his first test hole.

(An investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that Tesla’s Autopilot system was not to blame.)Musk is stoic about setbacks but all too conscious of nightmare scenarios.

His views reflect a dictum from “Man has the power to act as his own destroyer—and that is the way he has acted through most of his history.” As he told me, “we are the first species capable of self-annihilation.”Here’s the nagging thought you can’t escape as you drive around from glass box to glass box in Silicon Valley: the Lords of the Cloud love to yammer about turning the world into a better place as they churn out new algorithms, apps, and inventions that, it is claimed, will make our lives easier, healthier, funnier, closer, cooler, longer, and kinder to the planet.

Demis Hassabis, a leading creator of advanced artificial intelligence, was chatting with Elon Musk, a leading doomsayer, about the perils of artificial intelligence. I.: “It gave me more visibility into the rate at which things were improving, and I think they’re really improving at an accelerating rate, far faster than people realize. “Elon’s crusade” (as one of his friends and fellow tech big shots calls it) against unfettered A. “I have heard that before,” he said in his slight South African accent.

They are two of the most consequential and intriguing men in Silicon Valley who don’t live there. An unassuming but competitive 40-year-old, Hassabis is regarded as the Merlin who will likely help conjure our A. Mostly because in everyday life you don’t see robots walking around. But Roombas aren’t going to take over the world.”In a startling public reproach to his friends and fellow techies, Musk warned that they could be creating the means of their own destruction. of its parent company, Alphabet, could have perfectly good intentions but still “produce something evil by accident”—including, possibly, “a fleet of artificial intelligence-enhanced robots capable of destroying mankind.”At the World Government Summit in Dubai, in February, Musk again cued the scary organ music, evoking the plots of classic horror stories when he noted that “sometimes what will happen is a scientist will get so engrossed in their work that they don’t really realize the ramifications of what they’re doing.” He said that the way to escape human obsolescence, in the end, may be by “having some sort of merger of biological intelligence and machine intelligence.” This Vulcan mind-meld could involve something called a neural lace—an injectable mesh that would literally hardwire your brain to communicate directly with computers. “Your phone and your computer are extensions of you, but the interface is through finger movements or speech, which are very slow.” With a neural lace inside your skull you would flash data from your brain, wirelessly, to your digital devices or to virtually unlimited computing power in the cloud. “She obviously has a fairly extreme set of views, but she has some good points in there.”But Ayn Rand would do some re-writes on Elon Musk.

Musk explained that his ultimate goal at Space X was the most important project in the world: interplanetary colonization. She would certainly get rid of all his nonsense about the “collective” good. ”Mostly, Rand would savor Musk, a hyper-logical, risk-loving industrialist. Marc Mathieu, the chief marketing officer of Samsung USA, who has gone fly-fishing in Iceland with Musk, calls him “a cross between Steve Jobs and Jules Verne.”As they danced at their wedding reception, Justine later recalled, Musk informed her, “I am the alpha in this relationship.”Photographs by Anders Lindén/Agent Bauer (Tegmark); by Jeff Chiu/A. Images (Page, Wozniak); by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg (Hassabis), Michael Gottschalk/Photothek (Gates), Niklas Halle’n/AFP (Hawking), Saul Loeb/AFP (Thiel), Juan Mabromata/AFP (Russell), David Paul Morris/Bloomberg (Altman), Tom Pilston/The Washington Post (Bostrom), David Ramos (Zuckerberg), all from Getty Images; by Frederic Neema/Polaris/Newscom (Kurzwell); by Denis Allard/Agence Réa/Redux (Le Cun); Ariel Zambelich/ Wired (Ng); © Bobby Yip/Reuters/Zuma Press (Musk).

Hassabis replied that, in fact, was working on the most important project in the world: developing artificial super-intelligence. She would find great material in the 45-year-old’s complicated personal life: his first wife, the fantasy writer Justine Musk, and their five sons (one set of twins, one of triplets), and his much younger second wife, the British actress Talulah Riley, who played the boring Bennet sister in the Keira Knightley version of , adding a smiley-face emoticon. He enjoys costume parties, wing-walking, and Japanese steampunk extravaganzas. In a tech universe full of skinny guys in hoodies—whipping up bots that will chat with you and apps that can study a photo of a dog and tell you what breed it is—Musk is a throwback to Henry Ford and Hank Rearden.

Elon Musk is famous for his futuristic gambles, but Silicon Valley’s latest rush to embrace artificial intelligence scares him. Inside his efforts to influence the rapidly advancing field and its proponents, and to save humanity from machine-learning overlords. is rapidly developing but still far from the powerful, self-evolving software that haunts Musk. Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist and Donald Trump adviser who co-founded Pay Pal with Musk and others—and who in December helped gather skeptical Silicon Valley titans, including Musk, for a meeting with the president-elect—told me a story about an investor in Deep Mind who joked as he left a meeting that he ought to shoot Hassabis on the spot, because it was the last chance to save the human race. It probably hadn’t eased his mind when one of Hassabis’s partners in Deep Mind, Shane Legg, stated flatly, “I think human extinction will probably occur, and technology will likely play a part in this.”Before Deep Mind was gobbled up by Google, in 2014, as part of its A. shopping spree, Musk had been an investor in the company. You know all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and he’s like, yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon? When they would return to the lab after a break, they’d say, “O.

It was just a friendly little argument about the fate of humanity. Elon Musk began warning about the possibility of A. He told me that his involvement was not about a return on his money but rather to keep a wary eye on the arc of A. K., let’s get back to work summoning.”Musk wasn’t laughing. Elon Musk smiled when I mentioned to him that he comes across as something of an Ayn Rand-ian hero.

The paradox is this: Many tech oligarchs see everything they are doing to help us, and all their benevolent manifestos, as streetlamps on the road to a future where, as Steve Wozniak says, humans are the family pets. He plans on fighting this with every fiber of his carbon-based being.

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