Cambridge MP rows with Prime Minister in Commons over ‘fawning welcome’ for ‘super-rich’ Elon Musk during AI chat
Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner criticised the Prime Minister in the House of Commons for giving a “fawning welcome” to tech billionaire Elon Musk.
Rishi Sunak hosted a chat with the owner of X - formerly Twitter - during the UK’s AI Safety Summit earlier this month.
At the outset of their discussion on the dangers and opportunities of artificial intelligence, the Prime Minister told Mr Musk: “We feel very privileged, very excited to have you.”
But Labour MP Mr Zeichner was unimpressed by their conversation, which preceded more controversial posts from Mr Musk.
He told the Prime Minister on Wednesday (November 23): “A few weeks ago, the world cringed at the Prime Minister’s fawning welcome for Elon Musk, and this week, advertisers are fleeing Musk’s platform after his latest vile outburst.
“So what exactly did the Prime Minister think he might learn from an unelected, super-rich individual, who had taken over a once-successful organisation and plunged it into a death-spiral?’
The Prime Minister accused Mr Zeichner of failing to understand science and technology.
“‘It is striking from the honourable member from Cambridge of all places to absolutely not understand the importance of technology sectors and companies to the growth of our economy - absolutely extraordinary. It actually illustrates everything wrong with Labour’s approach to our economy, Mr. Speaker.
“What the rest of the world saw was the UK playing a lead in defining the regulations and approach to the technology that is going to transform how we live. It was a great example of the UK leading the way, an enormous tribute to our incredible entrepreneurs and businesses, many of which are poorly represented by him in his constituency.”
But speaking after the exchange, Mr Zeichner suggested that the Prime Minister’s discussion with Mr Musk was no more than a “vanity” interview.
He said: ‘The Prime Minister has missed the point entirely – there's a difference between a sensible meeting with industry leaders to discuss the important questions facing the technology sector, and rolling out the red carpet for the disreputable Musk followed by a sycophantic, softball Q&A in which the Prime Minister and Musk discussed Terminator films and AI friends.
“The message I get from the tech companies I meet almost every week is that they want a serious approach to the sector – and I’m sorry to say that vanity interviews do not fit the bill.”
South Cambridgeshire’s Conservative MP Anthony Browne described the conversation between the PM and Mr Sunak as “fascinating”.
During the 50-minute chat, they discussed jobs, safety and regulation, and how AI can benefit education and human wellbeing.
Mr Sunak agreed with the tech entrepreneur when he said the UK needed a “mindset change” towards a culture that celebrates creating new businesses.
“How do you transpose that culture from places like Silicon Valley across the world where people are unafraid to give up the security of a regular pay cheque to go and start something and be comfortable with failure?” the Prime Minister said. “You’ve got to be comfortable failing and knowing that that’s just part of the process.”
He said it was “a tricky cultural thing to do overnight”, but “an important part of creating” an environment that breeds start-up companies.
Mr Musk told Mr Sunak that “there will come a point where no job is needed” and the only reason people will work will be for their own satisfaction.
He described AI as “the most disruptive force in human history” and likened it to a “magic genie” capable of granting limitless wishes that will usher in an “age of abundance”.
“One of the future challenges will be how do we find meaning in life if you have a magic genie that can do everything you want?” he said.
Mr Musk also raised concerns over Terminator-style robots turning on humans, stressing the need for an off switch to put the machines into a “safe state”.
“A humanoid robot can basically chase you anywhere,” the tech tycoon said in the talk, which was not broadcast live but was later streamed on his social media site X, formerly known as Twitter.
“It’s something we should be quite concerned about. If a robot can follow you anywhere, what if they get a software update one day, and they’re not so friendly any more?”
The Prime Minister acknowledged that “we’ve all watched” movies about robots that end with them being shut off.
Mr Musk, the CEO of X, SpaceX and Tesla, even suggested AI could become a “great friend” for people in future, envisaging that it could “know you better than anyone, perhaps even yourself”.
“You will actually have a great friend,” he said, adding that one of his sons has “some learning disabilities and has trouble making friends”.
“An AI friend would actually be great for him.”
He also joked about the change of Twitter to X, admitting “I do love that letter” and “has a real thing about it”.
Mr Sunak asked him about the balance between free speech and moderation on the social media platform, and why he took the role of moderation out of a manual, human approach to introduce ‘Community Notes’, which allows people to add context to potentially misleading posts.
Mr Musk answered: “Part of the problem is if you empower people as censors, then there’s going to be a certain amount of bias they have. Whoever appoints the censors is effectively in control of information.”
He described Community Notes as a “consensus-driven approach to truth”.
“It doesn’t actually delete anything - it simply adds context,” he said.