From Futurism.com:

Musk indicates that internet infrastructure is "particularly susceptible" to a method called gradient descent algorithm, a mathematical problem-solving process. Bad news is, AI is excellent at doing gradient descents, which can become devastating digital weaponry.

A screenshot of the tweet is provided below.

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He is an intelligent man, so why would he say something like this? Does Musk know what gradient descent is?

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    $\begingroup$ I believe Musk would make this comment because he is aware of the valid questions raised by Neo-Luddism in relation to the dangers of technology. Rather than reject technology, Musk is trying to raise awareness at a time when "narrow" Algorithmic Intelligence is exceeding humans at specific tasks, and may advance beyond our capacity to understand what they are doing. My personal feeling is that Musk's industrial endeavors are not primarily motivated by personal profit, but out of a deep concern for the future of our species, and uses his celebrity as a platform to raise awareness of issues. $\endgroup$
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 16:25

1 Answer 1


I think Musk was using the terminology correctly though perhaps with hyperbole.

I believe this was tweeted in the context of the botnet attacks on name-resolution services that broke Netflix and a large number of other internet services for a time. He was expressing the idea that you could train a botnet-based system to attack the internet by giving it a toolbox of targets and hacks and using well-known machine-learning techniques to optimize the effectiveness of using the attacks in combination to take down the internet.

Gradient descent itself isn't harmful; it is using gradient descent to train a botnet that could theoretically result in a really devastating attack.

I also don't think he is necessarily implying that there is an actual machine learning system at work; rather that the hackers were training themselves with a methodology analogous to gradient descent.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for this excellent context. This subject may require hyperbole at the present state of AGI, but I think it's important to start attempting to tie moral philosophy to Algorithmic Intelligence, particularly in a game theoretic (economic) context, which has many applications in computing, and may be said to form the basis for Algorithmic Intelligence in terms of optimal decision making in the context of bounded rationality. As someone engaged in research on general economic automata in partisan contexts, deeply concerned about value alignment, I think this is of paramount importance. $\endgroup$
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 16:18

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