Elon Musk at Cannes Lions: AI, Advertising on X, and a New Era of Engagement

In a thought-provoking interview with WPP Chief Executive Mark Read, Elon Musk shared his vision for the future, covering topics from advertising on X and AI.

Musk, a pioneer in multiple cutting-edge industries through his companies Tesla, SpaceX, and Neuralink, offered his insights into how AI could shape our world, the potential benefits and risks it brings, and his efforts to ensure a balanced development of AI technologies.

During this discussion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Musk elaborated on the evolution of X (formerly Twitter), highlighting its significant enhancements in ad targeting. He noted that X has transitioned to a fully AI-based system that treats content and ads equally, allowing both to align more closely with user interests. Musk articulated his vision for advertising as content, emphasizing the importance of relevance and usefulness to viewers. This evolution presents a compelling opportunity for advertisers to engage more effectively with their target audiences.

What was most entertaining about this discussion was Musk’s newfound respect for advertisers, after previously telling them to go to hell last year. He clarified his stance, saying, “First of all, it wasn’t all advertisers as a whole. It was with respect to freedom of speech,” Musk said. “It’s important to have a global free speech platform where people with a wide range of opinions can voice their views. In some cases, there were advertisers who were insisting on censorship.”

Sounds a lot different from him telling advertisers “Go f**k yourself” at the DealBook Summit in New York in November 2023. Addressing the advertisers at Cannes Lions, Musk said, “It is worth trying out and I am interested in critical feedback. X is focused on showing ads to people who will find them interesting. We have made progress and will make more. Every third-party reviewer has given us an A-plus on brand safety.”

On the topic of a future driven by AI where abundance and universal high income could become a reality, Musk was optimistic. He discussed the challenges of maintaining AI safety, the importance of truthfulness in AI systems, and the potential for AI to enhance human creativity and intelligence. The conversation also touched on Musk’s ambitious projects like Neuralink, aimed at achieving a symbiosis between humans and AI, and SpaceX’s mission to make life multi-planetary.

While the remainder of this interview is more AI than ad tech, Musk did drop some intriguing gems. Check out a portion of the interview below.

Mark Read: Elon, you mentioned a 10-20% probability of something terrible happening with AI. What exactly do you mean by ‘something terrible’?

Elon Musk: Something terrible could range from significant disruptions to worst-case scenarios like the extinction of the world population. However, I prefer to look at the glass as 80% full and focus on the positive potential of AI, such as creating a world of abundance where goods and services are accessible to everyone.

MR: What do you think will be the most likely outcome of widespread AI adoption?

EM: The most likely outcome is a world of abundance where there is no shortage of goods and services. It won’t be universal basic income but rather universal high income, where work is optional. This could lead to an existential crisis where people question the purpose of doing things when AI can do everything better.

MR: How do you reconcile the potential negative outcomes with your vision of an abundant future?

EM: I accept that even in the worst-case scenario, I would want to be around to witness it. It’s a form of fatalism, but I believe we are heading towards the most interesting time in history, filled with both challenges and opportunities.

MR: Can AI be creative and original? What does that mean for human creativity?

EM: Yes, AI can be creative and original. It will amplify human creativity, creating a magic genie situation where if you can think of something, the AI can make it happen. This symbiosis will enhance human intelligence and creativity, potentially making us more capable of keeping up with AI advancements.

MR: How quickly do you think AI will bring about significant changes?

EM: Very fast. We will see radical changes as soon as next year and even more significant changes within the next five years.

MR: What is your vision for Optimus, the human-like robot from Tesla?

EM: Optimus is designed to be a fully functional humanoid robot capable of performing a wide range of tasks, from walking your dog to cooking dinner. I envision that everyone will have one, and they will become an integral part of both personal and industrial environments.

MR: How does SpaceX fit into your broader goals?

EM: The goal of SpaceX is to make life multi-planetary, extending the probable lifespan of human consciousness. By transporting people and equipment to Mars, we can ensure the survival and expansion of human civilization beyond Earth, ultimately exploring the galaxy.

MR: Can you explain the purpose of Neuralink?

EM: Neuralink aims to achieve human-AI symbiosis. In the short term, it focuses on helping people with brain or spinal injuries by allowing them to control devices with their thoughts. Long-term, it seeks to enhance human intelligence and restore full body mobility through advanced neural interfaces.

MR: How do you see the role of conventional journalism evolving with AI advancements?

EM: AI will aggregate real-time input from millions of users, providing a more immediate and comprehensive news feed than conventional journalism. While there will still be a role for traditional journalism, it will become smaller as AI-driven platforms dominate information dissemination.

MR: What motivates you to pursue these ambitious projects?

EM: I’m driven by curiosity about the universe and the desire to expand the scope and scale of human consciousness. By tackling big challenges and asking the right questions, we can better understand the answers the universe holds and push the boundaries of human potential.

Through this interview, Elon Musk sheds light on his far-reaching ambitions and the transformative potential of AI and space exploration. His vision is one of optimism tempered with caution, aiming to harness technological advancements for the greater good while addressing the profound questions they raise.