The development of artificial intelligence (AI) is progressing so fast that humans will soon need a technological interface inserted into their brains to be able to keep up with ever smarter machines, Elon Musk said at a tech conference in California this week.
The CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors was among a line-up of high-profile tech experts and entrepreneurs discussing the evolution of AI and machine learning at the Code Conference organised by tech publication Recode.
He said that judging by the tempo of development, it is likely that AI systems will soon become so sophisticated that they will be able to create even more intelligent computers by themselves that could side-line the human race.
Although Musk’s comments may seem a bit far-fetched, other speakers at the conference, including Google CEO Sundar Pitchai and Amazon’s chief Jeff Bezos, agreed that the technology could start affecting the world within the next five to 20 years.
"I would say in five years, there's no doubt in my mind that cognitive AI will impact every decision made from healthcare to education to financial services,” said Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, which has been developing its own AI supercomputer, called Watson, since 2005.
Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, predicts that AI will dominate the technology sector in approximately 20 years.
"It's really early but I think we're on the edge of a golden era,” he said. “It's going to be so exciting to see what happens.”
Amazon has been working on AI for at least four years and now has 1,000 employees working on Alexa, the company's voice-based smart assistant software system, Bezos said.
Big tech companies are leading the way in AI development because they have access to massive data sets acquired through the users of their products. However, the number of start-ups exploring the field is also growing quickly.
But progress is not always straightforward. In March this year, Microsoft’s chatbot Tay caused a scandal when it started tweeting abusive messages, which it learned from other Twitter users.
Musk partnered with other technology entrepreneurs in December 2015 in support of a ‘responsible’ artificial intelligence project OpenAI.
AI systems are already being used to analyse massive sets of data to predict consumer behaviour, recognise patterns and improve financial trading programmes and security.
The technology is expected to spread into a wide array of applications in the future including driverless cars and service robots. The industry is expected to grow to $70bn (£48bn) by 2020 from just $8.2bn in 2013, according to a Bank of America report