Elon Musk weighs in on a Google and Microsoft search rival, A.I. ‘going Terminator,’ and how to fly to Mars

Elon Musk.
Michael Gonzalez—Getty Images

Elon Musk is a busy man running social media giant Twitter, electric car maker Tesla, and space cargo business SpaceX, among other ventures. On Tuesday, he weighed in about his companies and more—from A.I. threats to exploring Mars—at the Wall Street Journal‘s CEO Council conference.  

A new search rival

In recent months, tech companies like Google and Microsoft have been quick to jump on the generative A.I. bandwagon by introducing A.I. chatbots. But according to Musk, the A.I. space needs more competition. 

“I think there should be a significant third horse in the race,” Musk said. “We’ve got OpenAI (the maker of A.I. chatbot ChatGPT) and Microsoft [and] Google DeepMind.” 

Musk hinted that Tesla or Twitter could be new players in the A.I. search wars if they combine capabilities with another company he launched in April, X.AI.

“OpenAI has a relationship with Microsoft that seems to work fairly well,” he said, referring to the partnership between the two companies in which OpenAI supplies its technology to Microsoft and Microsoft has invested in OpenAI. “So it’s possible that X.AI and Twitter, Tesla would have something similar.” 

Musk helped cofound OpenAI eight years ago and left in 2018. He has since criticized OpenAI for switching from being a nonprofit to a for-profit company. In March, Musk questioned the legality of a nonprofit, to which he donated $100 million, now having a $30 billion market valuation—a metric typically used only by for-profit companies.   

For its part, Tesla’s A.I., used by its vehicles’ Autopilot to navigate and identify obstacles, is among the most advanced, according to the billionaire CEO. If OpenAI and Microsoft were to build self-driving cars while Tesla built the “most competitive” large language model, the underlying algorithm in A.I. chatbots, Tesla would definitely win, Musk claimed. So, if Tesla became a player in the search wars, as the company’s chief hinted, it would make an impact, he argued.  

What if A.I. goes the Terminator way?

People talking about A.I. often mention fears of doomsday scenarios in which robots take control over humans. Musk shares the same concern. 

“There’s a non-zero chance of it going Terminator,” Musk said, referring to the Hollywood movie in which futuristic A.I. tech threatens to cause colossal damage to the world. “It’s a small likelihood of annihilating humanity, but it’s not zero.” 

This isn’t Musk’s first time being vocal about the risks of advanced A.I. In March, he was among the many tech players—including academics, technologists, and industry experts—who signed a letter calling for a six-month pause on the development of advanced A.I. systems that would give governments time to create a regulatory system. 

At the conference on Tuesday, Musk said that government regulation would be an important step forward. He referred to a possible state-run “insights committee” that could keep tabs on the A.I. developments of different companies and propose rules to ensure safety.

Among Musk’s concerns: bad actors harnessing A.I. to target social media. 

“The pen is mightier than the sword—so, one of the first places where we have to be careful about A.I. being used is in social media to manipulate public opinion,” Musk said, adding that it was this potential problem that led him to introduce subscriptions to Twitter. 

“It’s 10,000 times harder to create an account that has a verified phone number from a credible carrier, that has a credit card, and that pays a small amount per month,” Musk said.

Mars is not for everyone

Musk also discussed his ambitions for SpaceX and his goal of eventually traveling to Mars. But the SpaceX CEO was clear that space travel isn’t for everyone and that applicants would need to meet certain criteria to visit the Red Planet.

“Sanity and stability will be prime requirements for traveling to Mars,” Musk said. “You don’t want someone going nuts and opening the airlock in the middle of the night.”

He also spoke about how the goal of establishing “multi-planetary life” and building a “self-sustaining city” on Mars would likely take much longer to become a profitable business. 

“SpaceX is a much harder problem because it’s a much longer-term goal and a lot of money lost along the way,” Musk said. 

SpaceX’s Starship rocket, which the company hopes would send people and cargo to Mars, had its first test flight in April, but exploded just minutes after its launch. 

Twitter and Tesla did not immediately return Fortune’s request for comment.

Correction, May 24, 2023: An earlier version of this article mistakenly mentioned that Musk discussed remote work at the Wall Street Journal‘s conference. The story and headline have been updated to correct the error.

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