Elon Musk has predicted the chance of AI-related disaster at “10 to 20%,” while doubling down on free speech over advertiser demands for censorship.

Musk, speaking at Cannes Lions on Wednesday morning, said: “I tend to agree with Geoff Hinton – one of the godfathers of AI – and he thinks there’s a 10-20% probability of something terrible happening.”

Musk didn’t specify what he meant by “terrible,” instead adding: “The glass is 80% full. Look on the bright side.”

He went on: “I think the most likely outcome is one of abundance, where goods and services are available to anyone. There’s no shortage for any one of us. It would be a universal hike. Work would be optional.”

This could bring with it, he added, “a crisis of meaning.”

“If AI can do everything you can do but better, what’s the point of doing things? I think there will be an existential crisis,” said the X owner.

Speaking of the “worst case scenario” – possible human annihilation by AI, Musk pondered: “Would I want to be around to see it? Probably, yes.”

He reflected that we are “at the most interesting time in history” and then repeated this at the end to a packed auditorium, telling the room: “Enjoy the ride.”

Musk sat down at Cannes Lions with Mark Read, CEO of WPP, for a wide-ranging talk on subjects including the transformative power of technological innovation, how AI is reshaping creativity, business and society, and the future of his social media platform.

Doubling down on free speech

He doubled down on his commitment to free speech on his X platform, following previous battles with advertisers over issues of brand safety.

Musk seemed happy to walk into the lions’ den for advertisers, where he was asked on stage about his comment in November last year that “advertisers can go f*** themselves.”

He said his remark wasn’t intended to “target advertisers as a whole,” adding: “I think it’s important to have a freedom of speech platform where people from a wide range can express their views. And in some cases, there are advertisers who were insisting on censorship. If it’s a choice between censorship and money and free speech and losing money, we’re going to pick the second.”  

He went on: “Advertisers have a right to appear next to content that is compatible with their brands, that’s totally fine, but what is not cool is insisting that there can be no content they disagree with on the platform… Free speech is the bedrock of democracy and for X to be the public square of the world, it has to be a free speech platform – within the bounds of the law. I think it’s imperative that people have the right to speak.”

Asked if, as the boss of Xm, he regretted any of his own comments on the platform in times gone by, Musk replied: “I do shoot myself in the foot from time to time, but at least you know it’s genuine, not some sort of PR. If you speak freely, there’ll be times when you are foolish, of course, but if you’re constantly going through a filter, you’re not real, so I guess it’s better to be real than go through a filter.”

He made the point that he believes the platform continues to be the best way for anyone across the world to reach, not just influencers but “intellectuals.”

“If you want to reach the most influential people in the world, not just social media influencers but actually (those) who run companies, run countries, and intellectuals of the world, people who write, the X platform is by far the best,” he said. “It’s almost the only way to reach those people. They’re not watching TV, they’re not doing TikTok videos. X is smaller than other social media platforms, but they’re the most influential people in the world, so if you want to reach them, it’s the best place to go.”

With the U.S. presidential election cycle looming, Musk said he would welcome any debate to take place on the X platform. He didn’t lean into the political discussion, however, contenting himself with saying, “It’s going to be interesting.”

Others to have spoken at Cannes Lions include Chrissy Teigen and Queen Latifah.

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