When Elon Musk arriving at VivaTech, a leading technology conference in France, his presence had an immediate effect, as the event’s founder, Maurice Levy of Publicis Groupe, was quick to point out. Suddenly everyone wanted to be there. Musk’s visit represented a significant investment for the organization, with rumors of a compensation of around one million euros, not including a private plane. The tech star’s brilliance may have waned a bit, but innovators still welcome him with open arms.
New hope for neurological patients
An admitted introvert who can also be eloquent and even poetic at times, Musk answered every question he was asked. But the only real news he had to report was Neuralink, the biotech company he co-founded to develop implantable neural interfaces. “Hopefully later this year we will do our first human device implantation in someone with quadriplegia and potentially restore full body function,” Musk said. “You can imagine if Steven Hawking were alive today, what a profound change that would be.
Neuroprostheses can offer hope to people suffering from incurable neurological disorders. The San Francisco-based company shares a building with OpenAI, a venture Musk also co-founded that made headlines for its generative artificial intelligence algorithm, ChatGPT. France has also been pursuing Musk to open a second Tesla factory in the country, but he has not revealed anything about those plans.
On artificial intelligence, Musk reaffirmed his position that a moratorium on AI development is necessary (in late March, he and other technology leaders called for such a pause). “I think there is a real danger of digital superintelligence having negative consequences. If we are not careful, this could have a catastrophic outcome. So we have to minimize the chance that something goes wrong. I am in favor of AI regulation because I think advanced AI poses a risk to the public. And anything that poses a risk to the public, there has to be some kind of arbiter, and that arbiter is the regulator,” Musk said.
Freedom of speech
During the VivaTech panel, Musk also discussed Twitter, another hot topic for the entrepreneur who founded or ran PayPal, Tesla, and Space X, among others. “If I’m so smart, why did I pay so much for Twitter?” he asked the crowd, referring to the $44 billion he spent on the platform. He also described some of the radical changes on the site in recent months: “We have removed 90 percent of the bots and scams. It was a problem that had been going on for 10 years, and no action,” he said. At the urging of Christel Heydemann, CEO of the French telecommunications company Orange Group, Musk defended his platform’s permissive moderation policy. After the attack on Capitol Hill by January 6, 2021, Twitter had blocked accounts such as that of then-President Donald Trump When Musk bought the platform in 2022, he ushered in what he describes as a return to free speech principles.
“We call it freedom of speech, not freedom of speech,” he told the audience. “Yes, you can say offensive things, but then your content will be rated lower. So if you’re a jerk, your range will decrease.” He continued: “I think people should be able to say things because the alternative is censorship. I think if you go the censorship route, it’s only a matter of time before the censorship turns against you.” Twitter, he adds, “had a corrosive effect on civil society, but I think most people today would say their experience has improved.”
Before his trip to France, Musk stopped in Italy, a visit that seems to have bolstered the sympathy of right-wing supporters in his fight against the Digital Services Act. Musk, along with other technology leaders, opposes the package of EU rules on platform liability, which includes demands to block fake news and limit online violence. And it is precisely the right-wing political forces in Europe that could help slow down the measures proposed by the European Commission.
At the end of Musk’s performance, there was time for some questions from the audience. A woman took the opportunity to hand Musk her business card. He accepted awkwardly and she got a round of applause. A real start-up moment.
This story originally appeared on Wired Italia.