Sunak plays eager chatshow host as Musk discusses AI and politics

Earlier this week, Elon Musk was interviewed by the American podcast host Joe Rogan. On Wednesday he was grilled by reporters outside the AI safety summit in Bletchley Park. On Thursday, it was the turn of the British prime minister.

British officials have crowed for days about their success in getting the world’s richest man to attend the summit, which was a pet project for Sunak. So delighted were they at the UK’s pulling power they decided to give the X owner a 40-minute in-person conversation with the prime minister in the glamorous surrounds of Lancaster House, previously used as a set for The Crown.

Except what had been billed as “fireside chat” was not. Instead, Sunak played the role of eager chatshow host, keen to elicit drawled lessons on love, life and technology from the billionaire superstar sitting next to him.

“I’m very excited to have you here,” said Sunak, taking his jacket off and leaning forward in his chair. “Thanks for having me,” said Musk, relaxing back into his.

For 25 minutes, the prime minister quizzed Musk on his views on the summit and AI in general.

“What do we need to do to make sure we do enough [to regulate AI]?” asked Sunak. Later he suggested that technology was now developing even faster than “Moore’s law”, which suggests that computing power roughly doubles every two years, before checking himself. “Is that fair?” he asked Musk.

At one point Sunak even appeared to ask the controversial technology entrepreneur his views on international diplomacy. “Some people said I was wrong to invite China [to the summit],” he said. “Should we be engaging with them? Can we trust them? Was that the right thing to have done?”

In case Musk took objection to any of the questions, Sunak made sure to frame them with flattery. “You are known for being such a brilliant innovator and technologist,” he said at one point.

Downing Street had been worried that the famously unpredictable Musk might say something off-colour or undiplomatic. Earlier this week he told Rogan he was worried that environmentalists might harness AI deliberately to eliminate all of mankind. He regularly rails against the “woke mind virus” and has said he bought X to prevent a “zombie apocalypse”.

Officials were so concerned that they changed what had been billed as a live broadcast on X into a recorded conversation, to be edited and put online after the pair had finished speaking.

They need not have worried, however. The blunt and often abrasive Musk familiar to millions of users of his social media platform was replaced by a softly-spoken personification of charm.

He praised Sunak’s efforts to regulate AI, telling him: “Having a referee is a good thing.” He listed London as second only to San Francisco in terms of global AI power. And he called Sunak’s decision to invite China to the summit “essential”. “Thank you for inviting them, and to China for attending,” he said.

But if Musk delighted his audience with compliments he also startled them with a stark vision of the future. There will be no jobs in the future, he predicted: AI will take them all. “One of the challenges of the future will be how do we find meaning in life,” he said.

“I think there is a safety concern, particularly with humanoid robots,” he added. “At least a car can’t chase you up a tree … but if you have a humanoid robot it can chase you anywhere.”

One of the benefits, he predicted, would be that people would become friends with their AI-powered machines. “[You will have] AI that knows you better than you know yourself,” he said. “You will actually have a great friend. As long as that friend can stay your friend and doesn’t get turned off or something.”

For the reporters in the room, Sunak did have one thing to almost reveal. “Next year we will have elections in the US, India, Indonesia … and probably here,” he said.

The polls currently make him heavy favourite to lose that election. Maybe he will have a future working for X instead.

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