Take one terrible NY Times pundit who lives on an alien planet of her own, and toss her into the esoteric hothouse world of Silicon Valley, and all you’re going to get is a hot mess, a weird dive into the delusions of very rich smart people with no reality brakes to check out the truth. Maureen Dowd talks to Elon Musk and other pretentious luminaries. It’s painful if you prioritize critical thinking.
They are two of the most consequential and intriguing men in Silicon Valley who don’t live there. Hassabis, a co-founder of the mysterious London laboratory DeepMind, had come to Musk’s SpaceX rocket factory, outside Los Angeles, a few years ago. They were in the canteen, talking, as a massive rocket part traversed overhead. Musk explained that his ultimate goal at SpaceX was the most important project in the world: interplanetary colonization.
Hassabis replied that, in fact, he was working on the most important project in the world: developing artificial super-intelligence. Musk countered that this was one reason we needed to colonize Mars—so that we’ll have a bolt-hole if A.I. goes rogue and turns on humanity. Amused, Hassabis said that A.I. would simply follow humans to Mars.
In a world overpopulated with billions of people, where climate change is a looming threat, where all those people are a petri dish for cultivating new diseases, where the majority live in poverty, where in many places clean water is a struggle to find, where the most militarily powerful nation has just elected an incompetent, narcissistic clown to be in charge, two men sit down to talk. One says the most important project in the world is to put a tiny number of people on a barren rock. The other says the most important project is to create more powerful computers that can think on their own.
And then the two of them start arguing over the threat of artificial intelligences enslaving, or liberating, humanity. These intelligences don’t exist, and may not exist, and will definitely not exist in the form these smart guys are imagining. It is the grown-up, over-paid version of two children arguing over who would win in a fight, Darth Vader or Magneto? The Millenium Falcon or the Starship Enterprise? Jesus or Buddha?
And then Ray Kurzweil shows up.
Dowd just parrots these absurd conversations and doesn’t offer any critical perspectives, and lord help us, the participants certainly don’t. Can we just lock them all in a well-padded room with an assortment of action figures and tell them to get to work to resolve the most important dispute in the universe, which toy is powerfulest?
Or could we at least have one skeptic in this mess to try and focus the discussions on something real?