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They argue not about “whether” but rather about “how close” we are to replicating, and improving on, ourselves.Sam Altman, the 31-year-old president of Y Combinator, the Valley’s top start-up accelerator, believes humanity is on the brink of such invention.“The hard part of standing on an exponential curve is: when you look backwards, it looks flat, and when you look forward, it looks vertical,” he told me.

In Silicon Valley, a lunchtime meeting does not necessarily involve that mundane fuel known as food. Musk has larger aims, like ending global warming and dying on Mars (just not, he says, on impact).

Younger coders are too absorbed in algorithms to linger over meals. Older ones are so obsessed with immortality that sometimes they’re just washing down health pills with almond milk. But then, playing a well-heeled David to Goliath is Musk’s specialty, and he always does it with style—and some useful sensationalism. Musk began to see man’s fate in the galaxy as his personal obligation three decades ago, when as a teenager he had a full-blown existential crisis.

His eyes are green or blue, depending on the light, and his lips are plum red.

He has an aura of command while retaining a trace of the gawky, lonely South African teenager who immigrated to Canada by himself at the age of 17. price and ridding San Francisco of what they regard as its unsightly homeless population.

Musk explained that his ultimate goal at Space X was the most important project in the world: interplanetary colonization. She would certainly get rid of all his nonsense about the “collective” good. ”Mostly, Rand would savor Musk, a hyper-logical, risk-loving industrialist. Marc Mathieu, the chief marketing officer of Samsung USA, who has gone fly-fishing in Iceland with Musk, calls him “a cross between Steve Jobs and Jules Verne.”As they danced at their wedding reception, Justine later recalled, Musk informed her, “I am the alpha in this relationship.”Photographs by Anders Lindén/Agent Bauer (Tegmark); by Jeff Chiu/A. Images (Page, Wozniak); by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg (Hassabis), Michael Gottschalk/Photothek (Gates), Niklas Halle’n/AFP (Hawking), Saul Loeb/AFP (Thiel), Juan Mabromata/AFP (Russell), David Paul Morris/Bloomberg (Altman), Tom Pilston/The Washington Post (Bostrom), David Ramos (Zuckerberg), all from Getty Images; by Frederic Neema/Polaris/Newscom (Kurzwell); by Denis Allard/Agence Réa/Redux (Le Cun); Ariel Zambelich/ Wired (Ng); © Bobby Yip/Reuters/Zuma Press (Musk).

Hassabis replied that, in fact, was working on the most important project in the world: developing artificial super-intelligence. She would find great material in the 45-year-old’s complicated personal life: his first wife, the fantasy writer Justine Musk, and their five sons (one set of twins, one of triplets), and his much younger second wife, the British actress Talulah Riley, who played the boring Bennet sister in the Keira Knightley version of , adding a smiley-face emoticon. He enjoys costume parties, wing-walking, and Japanese steampunk extravaganzas. In a tech universe full of skinny guys in hoodies—whipping up bots that will chat with you and apps that can study a photo of a dog and tell you what breed it is—Musk is a throwback to Henry Ford and Hank Rearden.I sat down with the two men when their new venture had only a handful of young engineers and a makeshift office, an apartment in San Francisco’s Mission District that belongs to Greg Brockman, Open AI’s 28-year-old co-founder and chief technology officer.When I went back recently, to talk with Brockman and Ilya Sutskever, the company’s 30-year-old research director (and also a co-founder), Open AI had moved into an airy office nearby with a robot, the usual complement of snacks, and 50 full-time employees.And yet there’s a creepy feeling underneath it all, a sense that we’re the mice in their experiments, that they regard us humans as Betamaxes or eight-tracks, old technology that will soon be discarded so that they can get on to enjoying their sleek new world.Many people there have accepted this future: we’ll live to be 150 years old, but we’ll have machine overlords. As Musk slyly told Recode’s annual Code Conference last year in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, we could already be playthings in a simulated-reality world run by an advanced civilization.At first blush, Open AI seemed like a bantamweight vanity project, a bunch of brainy kids in a walkup apartment taking on the multi-billion-dollar efforts at Google, Facebook, and other companies which employ the world’s leading A. Musk told me that , by Douglas Adams, was a turning point for him. You know, I think it’s not just Larry, but there are many futurists who feel a certain inevitability or fatalism about robots, where we’d have some sort of peripheral role.

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