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Daily Drip

“Where are the Aliens?”: 5 Key Moments from the Elon Musk and Jack Ma Debate

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Who needs movies when you can watch two of the world’s most famous tech-preneur billionaires awkwardly face off over killer robots, colonizing Mars and the future of mankind?

The 2019 World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC), which kicked off today in Shanghai, brought tech celebrities Jack Ma and Elon Musk together to debate freely about the future of artificial intelligence in modern human society.

If you need a refresher, Jack Ma is the founder of Chinese e-commerce heavyweight Alibaba Group. Elon Musk is the founder of SpaceX, a space transportation services company which aims to enable the colonization of Mars, and the co-founder of Tesla Motors, manufacturer of the one percent’s most thirsted-after electric car.

If you can’t bear to sit through 48 minutes of shifty eyes, stilted speech and cringeworthy banter between two of the worlds wealthiest men, we don’t blame you. Here are some main points from one of the world’s most awkward debates on the future of humanity, ever.

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1. Will AI Surpass Humans?

Elon Musk guarantees it — literally. “Soon, we will be far, far surpassed in every way [by AI]. Guaranteed.”

But Jack Ma disagrees.

“I never, in my life, think about how human beings will be controlled by machines. It’s impossible,” Ma said. Later he added, “We should understand one thing — that man can never make another man… Computers only have chips. Men have hearts.”

That was deep, or something.

2. Robot Job Stealers

Many are concerned with the impact of AI on jobs — once more, Ma and Musk find themselves on opposite sides of the issue.

Ma acknowledged that AI would reduce the number of jobs, but didn’t seem to view it as an issue. “I think [with AI], people will work 3 days a week, 4 hours a day… people will have more time to enjoy being human beings.” he said.

Meanwhile, Musk took a more foreboding tone. “I think that over time, AI will make jobs kind of pointless… the last job remaining will be writing AI software, and then eventually, it will write itself.” To deal with the shifting career landscape, he recommended, “studying engineering, or physics, things like that.”

3. Aliens

Elon Musk actually just wanted to talk about aliens.

“Where are the aliens? …How come we’ve not found any aliens?” Musk brought this up multiple times during the conference. Jack Ma was confused.

Everyone else was also confused.

Musk also stressed the benefits of colonizing Mars:

“It’s important for us to take the actions which most increase the probability of continuing consciousness into the future… one of those actions is to ensure that life is multi-planetary.”

4. Old Guys Need Robot Caretakers

Here’s a key highlight — Jack Ma wants the next generation of robots to take care of the elderly.

“We need robots to take care of old guys.” he said flatly. A true win for filial piety.

5. The Future of Humanity

On a more serious note, although the two have pretty polar opposite views on the impact of AI on society, they did both agree on the most pressing issue facing mankind — both Ma and Musk stressed the imminent dangers of population collapse , which refers to the accelerating speed of population decrease.

Well, there you have it.

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So what did the internet have to say about all this talk of job-stealing robots and colonizing outer space?

Many on Weibo noticed how awkward the exchange was, with many users commenting “Musk looks so nervous”.

Another user voiced an opinion that has been echoed across both Weibo and Twitter many times, saying “The two people are not on the same wavelength.”

Indeed, many noticed the disjointed nature of the debate, and criticized the two heavyweights for their inability to enter dialogue with one another. Or, as one tweet about the event put it:

Monisha Pillai
    Monisha is a senior at NYU studying media theory, Chinese culture and Mandarin. You can probably find her ordering boba five times a day or crying over Korean boy bands.