Elon Musk on the future of work: ‘How do we find meaning in life if A.I. can do your job better?’


Elon Musk is concerned about his eight children’s future careers — especially if his kids have to compete with artificial intelligence for their dream jobs.

“How do we actually find fulfillment, how do we find meaning in life, if AI can do your job better than you can?” Musk wondered aloud in an interview with CNBC’s David Faber on Tuesday.

Even as the world’s second-richest person expressed a desire to help lead the coming AI charge — saying his automaker Tesla could debut a ChatGPT-like feature “no later than next year” — he expressed concerns about the technology’s future implications.

It’s not the first time: In March, Musk signed an open letter calling for a six-month pause on AI development to ensure that the systems are ethically implemented, given the “profound risks to society and humanity.”

On Tuesday, he struggled to articulate how the next generation might find value in a world where AI can do everything. “This question is a tough question to answer,” Musk said.

Here are the two pieces of advice he said he’d give his own children:

‘Try to be as useful as possible to the rest of society’

In a way, Musk’s top piece of advice is the same as it would have been pre-AI: Follow your passions in a way that can benefit other people.

“I would just say, you know, to sort of follow their heart in terms of what they find interesting to do, or fulfilling to do,” Musk said. “And try to be as useful as possible to the rest of society.”

The definition of “being useful to society” is rapidly changing. Even before ChatGPT’s popularity exploded, people wondered how AI would replace human jobs.

Office and administrative roles could be at risk. So could content-creating jobs, from designers to software engineers — though new opportunities could involve training and maintaining quality control for the AI systems that create such content.

For jobs that require uniquely human skills, AI may simply become a tool that makes work easier. Those could range from physically demanding roles like construction to communication-centric jobs like therapists.

“Jobs that emphasize interpersonal skills are much harder to be replaced by an AI,” Dimitris Papanikloaou, a finance professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, told CNBC Make It in February.

Use the time AI might give you back

Musk sleeps six hours per night, works seven days per week and only takes two or three vacation days annually, he said.

Apparently, that’s what it takes for Musk to simultaneously run Tesla, SpaceX and for now, Twitter — while also owning ventures like Neuralink and The Boring Company. On Tuesday, he questioned whether it’s all worth it, especially if machines can eventually do the most tedious parts of those jobs for him.

Despite a pandemic-era movement toward healthier work-life balance in multiple industries, the two most prominent sides of most people’s lives still have a tense relationship with each other. Studies have documented the tangible career slowdown that takes place when parents take leave to raise their kids, for example.

By automating some day-to-day tasks, AI could give workers personal time back without cutting productivity — but CEOs and managers could simply fill employees’ extra hours with more work. Musk said he’s already asking himself whether that would be a worthy use of people’s time.

“I’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into building the companies,” said Musk. “And then I’m like, ‘Well, should I be doing this?’ Because if I’m sacrificing time with friends and family but then ultimately, the AI can do all these things, does that make sense? I don’t know.”

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