Benjamin Netanyahu fears AI could ‘cannibalize’ more jobs than it creates. ‘This is like having nuclear technology in the Stone Age’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down with Tesla CEO Elon Musk, MIT professor Max Tegmark, and OpenAI president Greg Brockman on Sunday for a round-table discussion about artificial intelligence safety. It got interesting.

Their conversation touched on potential goldilocks AI scenarios, where the technology could usher in an age of abundance and leisure, but even more time was spent pondering the potential risks—and Netanyahu was a remarkably level-headed critic. The Israeli leader said he fears that AI could incentivize the rise of giant tech monopolies that take away more jobs than they create, and argued regulators are behind the ball when accounting for this new reality. His criticisms managed to say what everyone has been thinking throughout 2023 about this emergent technology.

“If you are going to cannibalize a lot more jobs than you create, then we have to change the structure of our economic policies and our political policies to take care of the people who are not going to find jobs, who are not going to contribute added value to the economy. We have to make sure that they have a living, a decent one,” he said.

Netanyahu worries that governments worldwide are “lagging behind” when it comes to regulating AI and said he will announce a “national policy” for the technology in a few months in Israel.

“This is like having nuclear technology in the Stone Age,” he said. “The pace of development is outpacing what solutions we need to put in place to maximize the benefits and limit the risks.”

The prime minister harped on the need for “responsibility” and “ethics” in AI development, noting that due to the data required to train AI models, it’s likely that only a few companies will hold the keys to the leading AI technology. That led Netanyahu to argue, against his classic free market persona, that governments will need to step in to prevent further wealth inequality caused by these AI monopolies.

“In AI, it seems to be that you’re going to have a concentration of power that will create a bigger and bigger and bigger difference between the haves and the have nots. And that’s another thing that causes tremendous instability in our world,” he said.

While Netanyahu clarified that he doesn’t know how the rollout of AI will ultimately affect the global economy and labor market, and he acknowledged that a more positive scenario is still possible, he was clear about his worries about the job losses he sees being caused by AI monopolies. “I’m a free market guy,” he said. “But you stop at monopolies and at monopolies’ edge.”

Even Musk, who created his own AI company and has developed AI tech at Tesla, agreed that it would be a good idea to have more AI regulation. 

“You could think of a [AI] regulatory agency being like a referee,” he said. “What sports game doesn’t have a referee? You need someone to make sure that people are playing fairly, not breaking the rules.”

Musk said that everyone he knows in the AI industry has “good motivations,” but that doesn’t always prevent worst-case scenarios. Echoing Netanyahu’s comments, the Tesla CEO noted that Einstein didn’t expect his work in physics to lead to nuclear weapons, but nevertheless, it did. “We need to be cautious, that even with the best of intentions … we could create something bad,” he added. “That is one of the possible outcomes.”

Still, Musk argued there is also a “very positive scenario” for AI that would look something like a nirvana.

“The very positive scenario basically sounds like heaven. You can have whatever you want, you don’t need to work, you have no obligations, any illness you have can be cured,” he said, arguing the birth of AI robots and other tech would mean the end of scarcity for all goods and services. 

In response, Netanyahu asked if a world of abundance and leisure was what Musk truly wanted, hinting at the differences between their worldviews.

“Life is a struggle,” he said. “It’s defined as a struggle, where you’re competing with forces of nature or with other human beings or with animals, and you constantly better your position. This is how the human race has defined itself, and our self-definition is based on that—both as individuals, as nations, as humanity as a whole. Now that could be challenged.”