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Elon Musk has a habit of using Twitter and interviews to make big statements. Last month, for instance, Musk told Jack Dorsey via tweet that AGI—artificial general intelligence, or A.I. with the power and flexibility of human intelligence—would most likely be here by 2029.
And when Elon talks, people listen. But should they?
He has a history of making bold predictions, not always correct; those self-driving taxis he promised still aren’t here, for example. In this particular instance, the idea that some quantum jump in A.I. is imminent might actually cause some people to panic, especially given that Musk himself once famously told a crowd at MIT that, “with artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.” And at the same time, suggesting that humanlike intelligence is not far away might distract from all the current flaws in A.I. that so desperately need fixing.
Star Trek Future?
The truth is, there is a giant gap between today’s A.I., which is largely pattern recognition, and the kind of Star Trek–computer-level A.I. that Musk is dreaming about. Yes, A.I. can already do some amazing things like speech recognition, with the ability to hold surrealistic but entertaining conversations about virtually any topic. But when it comes to reliability, dependability, and coherence, current A.I. is nowhere near what it needs to be.
Despite years of promises, A.I. continues to regularly make bizarre and unexpected errors of “discomprehension.” It also perpetuates stereotypes; spreads misinformation; and still fails even at everyday tasks like human-level driving, especially in unexpected circumstances. Just a few weeks ago a “summoned” Tesla crashed into a $3 million jet that was parked at a mostly empty airport. Inside the field, these kinds of challenges are well-known, but there are no firm fixes at hand.
Elon Musk Has Misled The Public
Remedying A.I.’s current flaws (and using the A.I. we actually have now wisely) must start with realism. Building an A.I. that is genuinely trustworthy is one of the most important but also challenging engineering missions of our time. But being glib about it isn’t helping. In painting a rosy and likely unrealistic picture, Musk has, in our view, misled the public about how far we still have to go.
With so much at stake, we decided to call BS.
This article, which originally ran in Fortune Magazine, is reprinted here with the permission of Vivek Wadhwa.