Elon Musk Tells Rishi Sunak AI Will Eliminate the Need for Jobs

4 minute read

Shortly after closing the U.K.’s landmark AI Safety Summit in Bletchley Park, the cradle of modern computing, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak headed back to London to interview tech billionaire Elon Musk. The pair discussed risks posed by artificial intelligence, how governments should address them, and how the technology might impact jobs, with Musk predicting that it could render most roles obsolete.

The interview could have been tense, given that hours earlier, Musk, who has in the past endorsed the idea of slowing AI development to assess the risks, tweeted a cartoon mocking political leaders professing to take risks from AI seriously at the Summit. But the atmosphere at the event on Thursday night was amiable, with Sunak thanking Musk for attending the event and Musk thanking Sunak for hosting it. “I’m glad to see at this point that people are taking safety seriously, and I’d like to say thank you for holding this AI safety conference,” said Musk. “I think actually it will go down in history as being very important, I think it’s really quite profound.”

When asked by Sunak about how AI will affect jobs, Musk predicted that human labor would become obsolete. “I think we are seeing the most disruptive force in history here. We will have something for the first time that is smarter than the smartest human,” he said. “There will come a point where no job is needed. You can have a job if you want to have a job for personal satisfaction, but the AI will be able to do everything.”

Sunak expressed discomfort at this idea. “I’m someone who believes work gives you meaning,” the Prime Minister and former investment banker said. “I think work is a good thing, it gives people purpose in their lives.”

Asked by Sunak what governments should be doing to “manage and mitigate” the risks of AI, Musk affirmed that government intervention would be required, saying that he disagrees with “less than 1% of regulations.” 

Read more: Inside Elon Musk’s Struggle for the Future of AI

Musk has a long history with AI. Along with Sam Altman, he was a founding co-chair of OpenAI and contributed to OpenAI’s original $1 billion of funding. He departed in 2018, citing conflicts of interest from his involvement with Tesla. Since then, he has become more critical of the direction OpenAI has taken.

Musk has been warning that AI could threaten the survival of the human race for nearly a decade, a topic he discussed with Sunak. “I’ve been somewhat of a Cassandra for quite a while,” he said.

In July, Musk announced he was forming xAI to “understand reality.” In a discussion streamed on Musk’s social media platform X, with Congressmen Ro Khanna and Mike Gallagher following xAI’s launch, Musk laid out his approach to AI safety—creating a maximally truth-seeking AI system. “From an AI safety standpoint, a maximally curious AI, one that is trying to understand the universe, is going to be pro-humanity,” he said at the time. Little more information about xAI has been made public since then.

Read more: What to Know About Elon Musk's New AI Company, xAI

Sunak, meanwhile, has for months been pressing for the U.K. to play a leading role in international efforts to regulate AI. The conversation with Musk comes after Sunak convened world leaders and tech executives over two days in an attempt to establish consensus over the risks he believes AI poses, and to begin to work towards joint solutions.

Read more: U.K.’s AI Safety Summit Ends With Limited, But Meaningful, Progress

Some commentators had criticized Sunak for interviewing Musk, who many argue has promoted misinformation and hate speech as owner of X, formerly Twitter. Sunak quizzed Musk about the unorthodox he has taken to content moderation on the social media platform, and the entrepreneur defended the use of crowd-sourced moderation in response. “If you empower people as censors, there’s going to be some amount of bias they have, and then whoever appoints the censors is effectively in control of information,” he said.

China’s inclusion in the Summit also created some controversy, amid consternation about its human rights record and as rivals in the West have grown concerned about the country’s progress on AI. Former Prime Minister Liz Truss had written to Sunak to say that she was “deeply disturbed” by China’s inclusion at the summit, on account of China’s use of AI to curtail freedom. Speaking with Musk, Sunak said that “it was not an easy decision, a lot of people criticized me for it.” Musk praised him for the decision, which he described as “essential.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Will Henshall at will.henshall@time.com