Musk Calls For Federal Department Overseeing AI’s ‘Civilizational Risk’

As artificial intelligence becomes yet more pervasive, tech billionaire Elon Musk warned the federal government that it may be time to take it seriously.

On Wednesday, Musk told a gathering of senators on Capitol Hill that there is a need for a federal department of AI to oversee its inevitable expansion. He cautioned that the rapidly developing technology presents a “civilizational threat” if not properly controlled.

Musk was joined by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and others before the closed-door meeting. Afterwards the Tesla and SpaceX CEO called the gathering “historic.”

He repeated that AI is a risk that needs monitoring. “The consequences of AI going wrong are severe so we have to be proactive rather than reactive,” he said. “It’s not like…one group of humans versus another. It’s like, hey, this is something that’s potentially risky for all humans everywhere.”

Musk was asked if AI will destroy humanity. His response was telling.

He said the chance of AI bringing on human extinction is “above zero.” While Musk observed that chance is low, it should still be considered along with the “fragility of human civilization.”

The federal government, Musk said, should take the role of a “referee” in regulating the exploding technology. This way, there would be an arbiter to ensure developments are safe and in the public interest.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Musk confirmed that he described AI as potentially “a double-edged sword” while addressing the lawmakers. He called the gathering “a service to humanity” that may be recorded historically as “very important.”

Zuckerberg told the over 60 senators that there are “important equities” that must be balanced with AI’s progression. He called for U.S. companies to be able to set the standards for technology while working with the federal government.

Lawmakers expressed concerns that AI could be used destructively for election interference, creating fake videos and crippling attacks on infrastructure.

Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) co-hosted the tech forum. He told reporters he believes the Senate is nearing the point where committees will be ready to ponder legislation.

A fellow GOP member, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), was not so certain. He said lawmakers are “absolutely not” at the point of being ready to write new laws governing AI.