Musk has frequently spoken about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence, calling it "the most serious threat to the survival of the human race". During a 2014 interview at the MIT AeroAstro Centennial Symposium, Musk described AI as humanity's largest existential threat, further stating, "I'm increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don't do something very foolish." Musk described the creation of artificial intelligence as "summoning the demon".
Despite this, Musk invested in DeepMind, an AI firm, and Vicarious, a company working to improve machine intelligence. In January 2015, he donated $10 million to the nonprofit Future of Life Institute, an organization focused on challenges posed by advanced technologies. He was previously the co-chairman of OpenAI, a nonprofit artificial intelligence research company.
Musk has said that his investments are "not from the standpoint of actually trying to make any investment return... I like to just keep an eye on what's going on with artificial intelligence. I think there is potentially a dangerous outcome there. There have been movies about this, you know, like Terminator. There are some scary outcomes. And we should try to make sure the outcomes are good, not bad."
In June 2016, Musk was asked whether he thinks humans live in a computer simulation, to which he answered:
The strongest argument for us probably being in a simulation I think is the following: 40 years ago we had Pong – two rectangles and a dot. That's where we were. Now 40 years later we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it's getting better every year. And soon we'll have virtual reality, we'll have augmented reality. If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, just indistinguishable.
Musk's warnings about artificial intelligence have brought him some controversy. He and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have clashed, with the latter calling his warnings "pretty irresponsible". Musk responded to Zuckerberg's censure by saying that he had discussed AI with Zuckerberg and found him to have only a limited understanding of the subject. In 2014, Slate's Adam Elkus argued that current AIs were as intelligent as a toddler, and only in certain fields, going on to say that Musk's "summoning the demon" analogy may be harmful because it could result in significant cuts to AI research budgets.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a Washington D.C. think-tank, awarded its Annual Luddite Award to "alarmists touting an artificial intelligence apocalypse"; its president, Robert D. Atkinson, complained that Musk and others say AI is the largest existential threat to humanity. Atkinson stated "That's not a very winning message if you want to get AI funding out of Congress to the National Science Foundation." Nature sharply disagreed with the ITIF in an April 2016 editorial, siding instead with Musk, and concluding: "It is crucial that progress in technology is matched by solid, well-funded research to anticipate the scenarios it could bring about ... If that is a Luddite perspective, then so be it." In a 2015 Washington Post editorial, researcher Murray Shanahan stated that human-level AI is unlikely to arrive in the near future, but that nevertheless "the time to start thinking through the consequences is now."
At a Tesla event on the sidelines of the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems in December 2017, Musk stated that:
I think public transport is painful. It sucks. Why do you want to get on something with a lot of other people, that doesn't leave where [sic] you want it to leave, doesn't start where you want it to start, doesn't end where you want it to end? And it doesn't go all the time. ... It's a pain in the ass. That's why everyone doesn't like it. And there's like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer, OK, great. And so that's why people like individualized transport, that goes where you want, when you want.
Afterwards, he dismissed an audience member's response that public transportation functioned effectively in Japan.
His comment sparked widespread criticism from both the public and transit experts. Urban planning expert Brent Toderian started the hashtag #GreatThingsThatHappenedonTransit which was widely adopted by Twitter users in order to dispel Musk's notion that everybody hated public transport. Yonah Freemark, an urbanist and journalist specializing in planning and transportation, summarized Musk's views on public transport as "It's terrible. You might be killed. Japanese trains are awful. Individualized transport for everyone! Congestion? Induced demand? Climate change impacts? Unwalkable streets? Who cares!"
Jarrett Walker, a known public transport expert and consultant from Portland, said that "Musk's hatred of sharing space with strangers is a luxury (or pathology) that only the rich can afford", referring to the theory that planning a city around the preferences of a minority yields an outcome that usually does not work for the majority. Musk responded with "You're an idiot", later saying "Sorry ... Meant to say 'sanctimonious idiot'." The exchange received a significant amount of media attention and prompted Nobel laureate Paul Krugman to comment on the controversy, saying that "You're an idiot" is "Elon Musk's idea of a cogent argument".