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Top Silicon Valley exec on why Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are both right about A.I.

Catherine Clifford
The president of Y Combinator, Sam Altman, says “any super powerful technology is good and bad.”

Elon Musk says artificial intelligence is a bigger threat than North Korea and a " fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization ." He predicts a global race to develop artificial intelligence will result in World War 3.

Mark Zuckerberg says Musk's AI rhetoric is " pretty irresponsible ." The Facebook CEO is "optimistic" about what artificial intelligence can do now and will be able to do in the future.

Top Silicon Valley tech executive Sam Altman, who is president of Y Combinator, says that both Musk and Zuckerberg are right.

"Like many other arguments, both sides are correct," Altman tells CNBC Make It .

"It could be the greatest thing ever," he says. "I really do believe that, if we could eliminate a huge percentage of human suffering with AI.

"I also believe there will be down sides. Any super powerful technology is good and bad."

Altman highlights other similarly dualistic technologies: fission and social media.

"When we learned to split the atom, we were able to make huge destructive bombs and also very cheap, clean energy," he says to CNBC Make It. "We got Twitter and Facebook, which let us connect with loved ones but also makes us unhappy because we read crap all day. Any really powerful technology has huge good and huge bad."

In addition to running top Silicon Valley start-up mentorship and investment company, Y Combinator — which has funded the likes of Airbnb, Dropbox and Stripe — Altman is one of the co-founders of Open AI, a non-profit organization designed to ensure a safe and productive evolution into a more autonomous future. Musk is another co-founder of Open AI.


Because of the complexity and profound implications of the rise and accelerated development of artificial intelligence, it "is one of the most important topics in the world right now," says Altman.

Both Musk and Altman think the government should be involved in the conversation.

Altman thinks "at least the government should be monitoring" the technological developments and potential of artificial intelligence, he tells CNBC Make It. "There should at least be insight to toward the forefront of capability."

Musk is more aggressive in his prescription for the government. He says it should be proactively issuing government regulation.

"AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization in a way that car accidents, airplane crashes, faulty drugs or bad food were not — they were harmful to a set of individuals within society, of course, but they were not harmful to society as a whole," Musk said to a gathering of governors in July . "AI is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation than be reactive."

See also:

Top Silicon Valley tech exec on cash handouts: Let's eliminate poverty for all Americans

This Silicon Valley tech leader wants to fix California's housing crisis by scrapping the $64 billion bullet train from L.A. to S.F.

Elon Musk says robots will push us to a universal basic income—here's how it would work


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