Bruce Deitrick Price
Why is Elon Musk afraid of AI?
By Bruce Deitrick Price
May 8, 2022

I met my first robot 40 years ago and ever since that time, as a hobby, I've tracked the field.

I had read about this robot in a magazine and wanted to interview the inventor. So I traveled out to Newark, walked into a big warehouse, and this rather large, scary thing rushed out to meet me. Did we communicate? Was it actually talking to me? I wasn't sure what was real. The fascinating thing was that the experts I later contacted didn't agree on what happened that day and what would ever happen. I think this uncertainty amazed me more than anything else. Still today there is huge disagreement about the future of AI.

Mark Zuckerberg is very optimistic. But Elon Musk warns that we are probably finished. Here's a typical quote: “AI is a fundamental risk to human civilization.”

The dominant story throughout the past century was that robots would be unpredictable and might go berserk. Fear prompted Isaac Asimov to create his famous Three Rules for Robotics (1942). These were designed to keep us from being murdered by our new servants. Asimov seemed to have solved the problem.

Fifteen years ago I made a video called Stop The Hype About Robots, where I argued for an optimistic view, and ridiculed paranoia.

I was mainly focused on explaining robots to other ordinary people like myself, i.e., those who are not math geniuses. I was fascinated by the Robot Horizon, where we would all have to deal with our First Contact. You would essentially be dealing with an alien. There would be awkwardness and anxiety. I still think there will be a fundamental divide, where lots of people love meeting their first robots, and other people feel that contact is creepy and threatening.

Four years ago I had a very vivid dream about an attractive young woman walking beside a highway, alone, wearing a raincoat. There was something odd about her posture, her manner, her detachment; and in the dream I thought: could she be a robot??

I woke up thinking that this confusion, this melange of unfamiliar questions, was a fascinating phenomenon. I wanted to write a novel about the disorientation. And that was the starting point for Frankie. I write mainly about education so I’m glad to point out that this novel is for me educational because I try to give general readers a sense of the mysteries in this new field. Welcome to a world where robots are real, or at least one of them is. And the humans in the story are struggling to figure out how they should react to Frankie. (For more info, visit

Now let's focus on Elon Musk, his anxiety, and his fears. As a leading industrialist, he meets all the big brains in this exotic field. Everything is happening faster and faster, he says, both the physical coordination and the mental processes. Search, as we all can see on Google, becomes almost instantaneous. Meanwhile, our AI geniuses are developing more and more clever algorithms to guide what the robot is supposed to do. The danger is that robots will generate possibilities not imagined by humans. It's like dealing with a 10-year-old child, or a person on drugs, assuming you left one of those in charge of your house. The child, and as well the robot, might try to answer questions that were not asked, and embrace answers that are arguably a little crazy. Before you know it, the robot has taken over your house, or your planet.

Two more cheerful quotes from Musk:

    “The global arms race for AI will cause World War III.”

    “Intelligent AI would become everlasting authoritarians from which the world could never escape.” Or as Bob Hope put it, “You mean like Democrats?"

Elon Musk wants major countries to agree to limit AI. But everyone sees military possibilities. Can we expect the Chinese to observe limitations on anything? At this time, Musk is still talking about 5 or 10 years in the future. But that's a lot closer than any dangers posed by climate changes.

In the near term, meanwhile, expect odd and unanticipated events. Humans and robots will misjudge each other, like strangers in a strange land. Anyway, that's the message in Frankie.

© Bruce Deitrick Price


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Bruce Deitrick Price

Bruce Deitrick Price is the author of six books, an artist, a poet, and an education reformer. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia, earned Honors in English Literature from Princeton, served two years in the Army, and then lived many years in Manhattan.

Price explains educational theories and methods on his ed site (founded in 2005; now being rebuilt). He has 400 education articles and videos on the Internet. More forcefully than most, Price argues that the public schools are mediocre because our Education Establishment wants them that way. His relevant book is Saving K-12


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