The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Google’s artificial intelligence mastermind responds to Elon Musk’s fears

Demis Hassabis is an impressive guy. A former child prodigy, a chess master at 13 and the founder of DeepMind Technologies, a British artificial intelligence company that Google acquired last year. Now 38, he’s at the forefront of an emerging technology with an unmatched potential for good and bad.

Hassabis and his researchers published a landmark paper this week, creating an algorithm that learns in a human-like manner. Observers of artificial intelligence have warned that advances like this are a step toward potentially destroying civilization.

Elon Musk, a DeepMind investor — he says the better to keep an eye on them — has led the charge, calling artificial intelligence mankind’s greatest threat. Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates have also issued warnings.

At a news conference Tuesday Hassabis addressed Musk’s concerns:

“We’re many, many decades away from anything, any kind of technology that we need to worry about. But it’s good to start the conversation now and be aware of as with any new powerful technology it can be used for good or bad,” Hassabis said.

He was also quick to downplay any rift with DeepMind and Musk.

“We’re good friends with Elon and he’s been a big supporter of ours for a number of years,” Hassabis said. “And he’s fascinated, loves the potential of artificial intelligence.”

Elon Musk loves artificial intelligence? Never would’ve guessed that.

Related: Google’s breakthrough in artificial intelligence, and what it means for self-driving cars