Friendship is not a black-and-white thing. You might not like how your friend sometimes kinda sorta cheats on his girlfriend. Or you might not like how he or she acts when plastered. Rarely do you or I worry that one of our best friends in the world might destroy humanity.
But we are normals, not CEOs running some of the world's most important companies. SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk and Google cofounder Larry Page are bros. They play video games together, Musk crashes at Page's house all the time. They dream up weird and awesome-sounding ideas while they shoot the shit. This is a photo of them I wanted to use, but couldn't, because it's copyrighted. They like each other.
And yet, Musk thinks that Google, which is investing heavily into artificial intelligence, might eventually cause the downfall of humanity by eventually creating a breed of super intelligent robots that will exterminate us.
This is in direct conflict with Musk's goal, which is to make humans a multi planet species capable of withstanding an asteroid impact. Superintelligent robots probably don't care much about climate change or renewable energy, while we're thinking about it.
"They have a funny relationship. When Elon's in Silicon Valley, he doesn't have a house so he stays at a hotel or goes to his friends' houses. That's how he keeps in touch with people," Ashlee Vance, author of a new biography about Musk, told me. "So, he stays with Larry, but then, at the same time, Elon thinks Larry Page his buddy may very well be working on the end of mankind and some evil AI. He thinks Larry has a good heart, but it's almost too good of a heart, like he's naive about this stuff."
Musk has famously invested $10 million in the Future of Life Institute, which is researching AI safety to keep artificial intelligence "friendly." Meanwhile, Page has said that we must "try to develop artificial intelligence to facilitate access to new forms of knowledge."
But let's dig in a bit on the billionaires' friendship. Page told Vance that he thinks Musk is "inspiring." And he's actually said before that he's thought about leaving all of his money to Musk if he happens to die first—this is, assuming, that Elon weren't going to die immediately after in a robotic uprising.
"[Musk] said, 'Well, what should I really do in this world? Solve cars, global warming, and make humans multi planetary,'" Page told Vance. "Those are pretty compelling goals, and now he has businesses to do that."
Musk and Page occasionally hang out at a secret, Google-owned apartment in Palo Alto, where they bat around ideas. Once, they discussed building an electric jet plane that can take off and land vertically and a separate "commuter plane" that is constantly circling the Earth.
"It's fun for the three of us [including Google cofounder Sergey Brin] to talk about kind of crazy things, and we find stuff that eventually turns out to be real," Page told Vance.
Vance told me he thinks maybe some of these fanciful ideas will actually come true someday: "I think it's a sci fi kind of brainstorming session, where they come up with a thousand ideas and then take one or two of them and try to build it, which is just nuts."
Sounds kind of like some conversations I've had. Except with, you know, an actual chance of happening.