Yann LeCun, AI pioneer, sharply criticizes Elon Musk over treatment of scientists and spreading of misinformation

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Yann LeCun, the chief AI scientist at Meta and a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, posted a lengthy critique of Elon Musk on social media this weekend, taking issue with how the tech billionaire treats scientists at his companies and accusing him of spreading dangerous misinformation and conspiracy theories.

The rebuke comes just one week after LeCun engaged in a heated Memorial Day weekend feud with Musk on X.com (formerly Twitter), highlighting key differences in their approaches to AI research and hype.

While praising some of Musk’s achievements in electric vehicles, rockets, solar energy and satellite communications, LeCun said he “very much disagree[s] with him on a number of issues,” especially how Musk treats researchers at his companies.

Musk’s companies accused of stifling scientific progress and talent acquisition

“I disagree with how he treats his scientists,” LeCun wrote. “Technology/product development may not need openness and publications to advance, but forward-looking research sure does, whether it’s in AI, neural interfaces, material science, or whatever. Secrecy hampers progress and discourages talents from joining the effort.”

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LeCun, who leads Meta’s fundamental AI research lab and was a key figure in developing foundational AI techniques like convolutional neural networks, said that Musk’s companies force researchers into secrecy rather than allowing them to publish their work, which he argued slows scientific progress and dissuades top talent from working at those firms. 

The critique echoed themes from LeCun’s Memorial Day weekend clash with Musk, where he threw shade at the CEO’s new AI startup xAI, suggesting scientists there would face unrealistic deadlines, hype, and conspiracy theories from their boss. Musk fired back, questioning what “science” LeCun had done in the past 5 years, to which the Meta AI chief replied “Over 80 technical papers published since January 2022. What about you?”

LeCun takes aim at Musk’s ‘hype’ and ‘blatantly false predictions’ in AI and autonomous vehicles

Beyond the treatment of scientists, LeCun took further aim at what he described as Musk’s “hype” and “blatantly false predictions” around artificial general intelligence and autonomous vehicles. He accused the Tesla and SpaceX CEO of making claims like “AGI next year” and promising “1 million robotaxis by 2020” that have not come to pass.

“I also disagree with the hype,” LeCun said. “I mean, expressing an ambitious vision for the future is great. But telling the public blatantly false prediction (‘AGI next year’, ‘1 million robotaxis by 2020’, ‘AGI will kill us all, let’s pause’,…) is very counterproductive (also illegal in some cases).”

AI expert warns Musk’s conspiracy theories pose danger to democracy and human welfare

The acclaimed AI researcher saved his harshest criticism for Musk’s statements on political and social issues, arguing that many of his public positions are “not just wrong but dangerous for democracy, civilization, and human welfare.”

LeCun, who has over 768,000 followers on X.com, took particular issue with Musk’s criticisms of journalists and traditional media, suggesting they are necessary for a functioning democracy. “Say what you want about ‘traditional media’ but you can’t really have reliable information without professional journalists working for a free and diverse press. Democracy can’t exist without it, which is why only authoritarian enemies of democracy rail against the media,” he posted.

He also accused Musk of spreading “batshit-crazy conspiracy theories” like Pizzagate when it serves his interests, arguing this is unbecoming of someone seen as a visionary in the tech industry. “One would expect a technological visionary to be a rationalist,” LeCun wrote. “Rationalism doesn’t work without Truth.”

Since acquiring Twitter for $44 billion last year and rebranding it as X, Musk has faced criticism for his approach to content moderation on the platform. LeCun argued that while Musk claims to be a “free speech absolutist,” content moderation is a necessity on social media to remove things like terrorist propaganda, child exploitation, hate speech, and health disinformation. 

“Content moderation is a complicated problem whose best answer is not an attitude of total laissez-faire but a complex trade-off,” LeCun said.

The posting is an unusually direct and sweeping rebuke of Musk from one of the world’s foremost AI experts. LeCun works at Meta, putting him in competition with Musk’s xAI as well as his company Neuralink. But the critique goes beyond business rivalries to fundamental questions about the ethical development of AI, the norms of scientific research, and the civic responsibilities of tech leaders.

It’s not the first time LeCun has tangled with titans of the AI world. In October, he engaged in a fiery debate with Yoshua Bengio, another AI pioneer, over the potential risks and safety concerns surrounding the technology. While Bengio called for prudence and major investment in AI safety and governance, LeCun emphasized the need to design AI for safety and asserted there is already significant funding going into making the systems secure and reliable.

Neither Musk nor spokespeople for his various companies immediately responded to a request for comment on LeCun’s criticisms. The post underscores the emerging battle lines and debates as the pace of AI development accelerates and high-profile figures like Musk and LeCun jockey to shape its future trajectory.