I watched this interview with a huge sense of cynicism. I almost wondered if Sunak is anticipating losing the next election and fancies a job as a chat show host. Labour suggested he was just angling for a job with the billionaire. Others made the point that with the war in the Middle East as well as Ukraine, not to mention the cost-of-living crisis and a year of extreme weather events even in the UK, one would think the PM would have something more pressing to do with his time.
Sunak on the other hand, apart from being a bit giggly, came across as very assured, very well-briefed and impressively seemed to know the names of everyone in the room! He also appeared to know all the film references that Musk used which is more than I did.
Sunak constantly referred to his own influence as Prime Minister saying repeatedly, ‘my job is …’ in reference to regulation and the use of AI in government. He was able to give the impression that the UK government was a world leader in AI, innovation and his own particular passion, AI-enabled education. It was all a bit obviously self-serving, but it was relatively well done.
It has to be said, there wasn’t a challenging question in sight and Sunak did give Musk a number of gushing compliments. This was certainly not journalism, but then it did not ever pretend to be.
If Elon Musk was not one of the world’s richest men and most far-sighted and successful technologist, he would have been a very unimpressive interviewee.
New Scientist writer Jeremy Hsu was among those frustrated by the superficiality of the chat. He pointed out the chat focused heavily on utopian futures and theoretical risks of superhuman intelligence, instead of actual harms caused by AI systems already deployed by tech companies.
Andrew Rogoyski, an AI expert at the University of Surrey, told the Guardian : “It seemed odd to juxtapose the success of the AI summit in achieving international consensus with the views of a single tech billionaire, especially as the conversation focused in the ages-old AI meme of killer robots and job losses.”
But as a lay person, at the end of the interview, I had a much clearer understanding of why we might soon have to pay for social media and why this might be a good thing (it will deter the bots). I understood for the first time that all robots must have an off switch or a ‘safe word’ which was a completely new idea to me. I was forced to think about the huge potential of AI in education in a way I had not come across before and I am entertained by the idea that AI might deliver a world where ‘no job is needed’ and we ‘won’t have universal base income, we’ll have universal high income’. And I had not woken up to the huge risk that in the next 12 months, AI may be disrupting democracy at the neighbourhood level all the way up to national general elections in a long list of major countries including the US, UK, India, and Indonesia.
From a media strategy point of view, I have always been hugely sceptical about long-form interviews because it greatly increases the opportunity for serious gaffes. But here the long-form worked for both parties and the audience. It gave space to allow Musk time to think and find the words, in a way three minutes on Ian King (Sky) or CNBC would not have done.
And while this was not a deep dive into the world of AI, it was a very accessible primer by a Prime Minister and a rock-star entrepreneur. It had pace and humour, was delivered without jargon, and it was anything but boring.
Image from YouTube
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