Elon Musk invested early in DeepMind just to keep tabs on the progress of AI

Elon Musk is a well-known harbinger of the potential for ill held by artificial intelligence. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO also helped start OpenAI, a group with a broad mandate that focuses on developing AI out (as the name implies) in the open, rather than behind closed doors as the exclusive province of high-powered governments and secretive private contractors. Musk, it turns out, was in on the AI train early with an investment in DeepMind, which was later acquired by Google.

Musk wasn’t in DeepMind for a return, as is the case with most investments; he wanted access to greater insight regarding DeepMind’s progress, and the progress of AI in general, according to a new feature in Vanity Fair. The enterprising CEO wanted to be able to see how fast AI was improving, and what he found was a rate of gains that he hadn’t expected, and that he thought most people would not possibly expect.

This was the insight that Musk needed to begin a campaign warning against the potential dangers of AI, and to develop his own efforts to responsibility develop the tech via OpenAI. It’s informed a lot of his thinking on the matter, including around his Mars plans, which, according to the Vanity Fair piece, is one reason why he thinks Mars is a worthwhile goal for human colonization: as a planet-sized doomsday bunker for what happens when AI on Earth goes rogue.

In the piece, Musk also reiterated some of his thoughts around the limitations of current human-computer interaction methods, noting that a neural lace with direct input access to the brain could speed things up. Reports indicate a company dedicated to exploring the creation of this tech for practical use are actually already underway.

Musk’s anxieties around AI are considered extreme by some of his Silicon Valley peers, but the man definitely seems to have a knack for long-term preparedness planning. Also a good lesson here: If you want to keep an eye on potential doomsday scenarios, cough up for an early-stage investment in one of the movers and shakers that could contribute to the end of days.