Elon Musk profile on Twitter

View from Washington: Musk vs Google and OpenAI

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Elon Musk took to Rupert Murdoch's Fox News to slam AI's two heavyweights and announce a rival project.

Elon Musk has confirmed that he wants to launch a third AI powerhouse to rival and, in his view, counterbalance Google and the OpenAI/Microsoft partnership. Truth GPT will be “a maximum truth-seeking AI that tries to understand the nature of the universe.”

More precisely, Musk wants to challenge the strategies and even philosophies of the two established players which, for him, raise the threat of “civilisational destruction” – a fear that, as leading technology commentator Kara Swisher (inevitably Kara Swisher) has pointed out, he has voiced repeatedly before.

But in an interview with host Tucker Carlson, being broadcast over two nights on the Fox News network, Musk called for strong government regulation – even stronger, he suggested, than he faces in his automotive and space businesses – and went further in specifically criticising other players while presenting a framework for his proposed rival.

He accused Google founder Larry Page, described by Musk as a “former friend,” of wanting to create a “digital God” and personally dismissing Musk’s earlier objections as “speciesist”. Musk therefore concluded at the time, “The person who’s in charge doesn’t seem to care about safety.”

That led him to support the original launch of OpenAI as a non-profit that was completely open source. But, Musk said, “Then I kind of took my eye off the ball, I guess, and they are now closed source. And they are obviously for profit. And they're closely allied with Microsoft. In fact, Microsoft has a very strong say, if not directly controls Open AI at this point.”

Musk’s Truth GPT move was mooted in the press over the weekend. The Wall Street Journal revealed that Musk had registered a company called X.AI in Nevada last month (X Corp is already his holding company for Twitter) and Business Insider reported that he had purchased a huge order of the GPUs used to power generative AI systems.

Musk acknowledged that his venture would be “starting very late in the game.” But, within his various ventures, Musk has access to a lot of intellectual capital in AI. Alongside that in SpaceX and Tesla, there is also the brain-computer interface company Neuralink.

At the same time, while there is a growing community of justified concern around the activities of OpenAI and Google, a good many within it are not Musk fans either.

His role in cutting 80 per cent of Twitter’s staff, his definition of “free speech absolutism”, and some of his other personal comments have led to claims that he promotes or provides an uninhibited platform for racism, anti-LGBTQ+ abuse, political extremism, colonialism and even eugenics. Divisions in US technology are becoming apparent that are as deep as those between the so-called red and blue states.

And then there is a powerful Silicon Valley cluster that believes Musk is already spreading himself too thinly.

Certainly, many of Musk’s naysayers will have found much in the interview’s first night to justify their opposition - and not just his choice of Fox News, a network dominated by right-wing commentary.

Musk built on claims within the Twitter Files (many of which have since been debunked) by saying “government agencies” had previously had extensive access to the platform’s data, including users’ direct messages – although he added that, like WhatsApp, these will soon offer encryption. Evidence? Hard evidence?

He suggested that Mark Zuckerberg’s investment on promoting voting via Facebook during the last US elections was really a $400m shadow donation to the Democratic Party.

He also argued that he has been able to run Twitter with such a smaller staff today because, “If you're not trying to run some sort of glorified activist organisation and don’t care that much about censorship, then you can really let go a lot of people, it turns out.”

So typical Musk in many ways, albeit less confrontational than his recent appearance on the BBC.

His argument that a serious threat from AI may involve a case where “the pen is mightier than the sword” with superpowered systems “whispering in your ear” to shape your opinions over social media should not be dismissed out of hand. But some of his other observations left you wondering how seriously you could take anything he said.

The second part airs early on Wednesday UK time. We’ll be back if anything more of substance emerges and, this week alone, there is also a rescheduled launch likely that could have its own implications for humanity’s future.

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