Taking the restrictive fields in which AI-type systems are developed, the danger of civilisation coming to an end because of the creation of AI would seem to be very small. Indeed, AI is used largely to support human decision-making and action rather than to replace it.
There are elements of Musk’s thinking, however, that seem considerably more likely to happen in the near future.
One of these is the development of technology to aid human-machine interfaces. As everyday life becomes increasingly reliant on connected devices, the way in which we use them is constantly changing. Our desire to access data and communicate has driven the evolution of wearable technology.
Musk claims that we will become pets to AI should we not develop effective brain-computer interfaces. However, the father of wearable technology and AR, Steve Mann, promotes combining both technologies to benefit society. This carries more substance as much work in the area is focused on assistive medical systems. For example, one area of research looks at the creation of brain implants to harness electrical signals in the brain and stimulate movement in paralysed limbs.
Brain implants may help paralyzed people move affected limbs again. Minerva Studio/Shutterstock
Rest assured, however, that we are probably not living in a computer simulation and that the claims made by Musk are outlandish. There are, however, some elements of his thinking that do hint at technology developments in the future.
Future developments in AR and related technology will move us towards a world that is more connected. In these augmented realities we will have seamless access to data and digital representations projected into the physical world. AI techniques will help us understand the data; making decisions that are informed by computers. But while augmented, these realities will still be built on and in the real world.