The event showcased how Musk seems to initially be more focused on answering deep scientific questions, rather than competing head to head with OpenAI, Google and Microsoft to create consumer AI products. Musk did say he saw his venture as an alternative to bigger AI companies but said xAI was still “embryonic,” and that it would take time for it to catch up with OpenAI and Google.
The new wave of AI tools has surprised many artificial intelligence experts with their capabilities, and some leaders in the field have moved up their timelines for how many years it will take before an AI creation is generally smarter and more capable than any human. But the current crop of technology works by predicting what image or word to say next, and there is no evidence that they can solve unanswered scientific questions. Many AI researchers say human-level AI may be many decades away, if it ever comes about at all.
Musk said that questions about the nature of dark matter or unsolved aspects of how gravity works could be among the mysteries his company seeks to explain. He spoke at length about the “Fermi paradox” — a theoretical question that asks why humans have not discovered aliens yet and posits that technological civilizations usually destroy themselves, or are destroyed by an outside force, before traveling to other solar systems.
Jimmy Ba, a University of Toronto professor and well-known AI researcher who joined Musk’s company, said the goal is to create an AI that can help with a range of problems facing humanity.
“How can we build a general purpose problem-solving machine to help all of us, humanity, overcome the most challenging and ambitious problems out there, and how can we use those tools to augment ourselves and empower,” Ba said.
Musk, who has criticized existing chatbots for being politically correct, said his company’s AI might offend people because it would speak the “truth.”
Musk has been outspoken about AI for years, famously saying in 2014 that inventing super-intelligent computers would be like “summoning the demon” and could create an existential threat to humanity. He helped found ChatGPT-maker OpenAI in 2015 but left the company in 2018 after disagreements with its other leaders. Over the past few months, he has complained about OpenAI and other AI companies scraping Twitter data to help train their bots.
Tesla, the publicly traded electric-vehicle company that Musk is the primary owner of, has a robust AI team who have already worked for years on giving the cars self-driving capabilities. Musk has said his new AI venture will work closely with both Twitter and Tesla. Investors have criticized Musk for using Tesla resources to help his other ventures, especially Twitter.
“We are going to work with Tesla on the silicon front and maybe on the AI software front as well,” Musk said, referring to Tesla’s custom silicon computer chips. “Obviously, any relationship with Tesla has to be an arms-length transaction because Tesla is a public corporation with a different investor base.”
Training the “large language models” that make up the backbone of modern AI tools requires huge amounts of data and stacks of computers to crunch all the information — an extremely expensive process. Tesla has significant computer processing capacity and has used it in its efforts to build self-driving technology.
On the Twitter event, Musk said his company would need computing power but suggested it wouldn’t be as much as other companies use. The team would stay relatively small, Igor Babuschkin, a former Google and OpenAI researcher who joined xAI, said.
Musk initially delayed the beginning of the event to wait for more listeners to join. He said he was adjusting Twitter’s algorithm so the space showed up for more people. About 34,000 people were listening when it started.