04.21.2023 – Elon Musk, Tucker Carlson and the Little Gods

Elon Musk and Tucker Carlson sit down for a chat.  What could go wrong?

Not being a Tucker or an Elon fan, I missed the interview, but have read about it since.  The news stories have focused on an exchange between the two having to do with artificial intelligence (AI) and its dangers. At one point Musk said among the dangers of AI is that it might become a “digital god.”  Here’s the excerpt from the show’s transcript where the Tesla billionaire makes the comment:

MUSK: …[Google co-founder] Larry Page and I used to be close friends and I would stay at his house in Palo Alto and I would talk to him late in the night about AI safety. At least my perception was that Larry was not taking AI safety seriously enough. And —

CARLSON: What did he say about it?

MUSK: He really seemed to be — wanted sort of digital superintelligence, basically a digital god, if you will, as soon as possible.

Like it (some did) or not (some did not), that’s what he said. His late-night talking buddy wants a digital god ASAP.  In fact, humans got into the (false) god making business long before AI.  Back in the day, the psalmist tells us, silver and gold were the preferred materials for our little-g gods.  We’ve moved on to silicone and code, but the result seems about the same.

The psalmist’s take on it goes like this:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
they have eyes, but do not see;
they have ears, but do not hear,
nor is there any breath in their mouths.
Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them. (ESV) Psalm 135:15–18

Our digital gods can synthesize speech, have high-resolution cameras, respond to audio input, and seem to take on life, but are finally just as mute, blind, deaf, and dead as their silver and gold counterparts from 3 millennia ago.  Idols 2.0 seem a lot scarier than their antecedents, but in the end are no more – and no less — dangerous.

The psalmist says the great danger of the idols is not in the futility of praying to them. It is not a misbelief that they have some sort of power.  It is, in fact, that the idols have great power.  Power over us.  “Those who make them become like them,” he writes.  “So do all who trust in them.”

They say that AI might someday be harnessed to find cures for diseases and means of generating energy efficiently and without environmental harm.  Let’s have at it!

Frankly, though, I am more concerned that AI is going to be used to create sophisticated digital spam and even more annoying robo-calls.

I really don’t know much about AI but think that caution is in order.  I do, however, know a little bit about the false gods and the danger that we might become like them – those who will not speak truth, do not see beauty, cannot hear wisdom, and refuse the breath of life.  The little gods are no God.