From AI to Twitter: What Elon Musk did and didn't discuss in his appearance at VivaTech in Paris

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Copyright ALAIN JOCARD/AFP or licensors
By David Walsh
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The Tesla and SpaceX boss joined VivaTech attendees in a keynote appearance on Friday, with topics including AI and Twitter. This is what he said.


Billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk received a rockstar welcome to the stage on day three of VivaTech, with rapturous applause from the audience, shouts of "We love you, Elon!" and even one attendee brandishing a bouquet of flowers for him.

In what became somewhat of a love-in for Musk, the self-confessed introvert, who is CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, Twitter, and X.Corp, offered some words of French to the adoring home crowd: "Zut alors! Bonjour, Paris!"

In spite of the noticeably warm reception inside the Dôme de Paris venue on Friday, in the world outside, Musk continues to be a divisive figure, seen by some as a disruptor who goes against the grain and takes risks in business and by others as a provocateur and a threat to democracy.

It’s little wonder then that so many eyes were watching as he arrived for a keynote appearance at one of Europe’s largest tech and start-up fairs in Paris to see what he had to say. 

Some may perhaps examine more closely what was not said during his hour-long appearance.

AI is still a concern for humanity

In keeping with the main talking point of this week’s fair, artificial intelligence (AI) was raised early in the discussion with moderator Maurice Levy, chairman of the Publicis Group.

In March, tech leaders joined Musk, who was an early investor in OpenAI, in calling for a pause in AI development. 

In an open letter, which was also signed by Apple’s Steve Wozniak, industry figures said that AI labs were "locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict, or reliably control".

I think there’s a real danger for digital superintelligence having negative consequences. So, if we’re not careful with creating artificial general intelligence, we could have a potentially catastrophic outcome.
Elon Musk
CEO, Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter

Must was surprised at the groundswell it caused. "I didn’t actually think anyone would agree to the pause," he told the audience. 

"I think there’s a real danger for digital superintelligence having negative consequences. So, if we’re not careful with creating artificial general intelligence, we could have a potentially catastrophic outcome.

"We need to minimise the possibility that something will go wrong with digital superintelligence projects".

He added that he was in favour of AI regulation as "anything that is a risk to the public needs some kind of referee".

His visit to Paris has coincided with Brussels lawmakers voting in favour of the EU AI Act this week. Musk wasn’t asked about what he thought of it and didn’t offer an opinion either, which is perhaps not unsurprising.

He and the bloc have had acrimonious relations of late due to their opposing stances on regulation when it comes to digital spaces like Twitter.

He later added that he said that while "AI was probably the most disruptive tech ever," we were living in the most interesting era. "We’re heading toward an age of abundance" because of the tech, he said.

While the billionaire expounded on his opinions on AI and its potential pitfalls and benefits, he didn’t discuss reports that he himself has set up a company called X.AI or what his plans for it were in light of his public stances on the transformative technology.

Michel Euler/AP
Elon Musk, who owns Twitter, Tesla and SpaceX, smiles at the VivaTech fair on Friday, June 16, 2023 in Paris.Michel Euler/AP

The direction of Twitter

Naturally, one of the hottest topics under discussion was Musk’s acquisition of Twitter at the end of 2022.

Among the interesting assertions Musk made in response to the question about why he made the $44 billion (€42 million) takeover, was that because of the level of interaction he has with his 143 million-strong cohort of followers, he felt "attuned" to what’s going on with the platform.


"Generally, I was concerned Twitter was having a negative effect on civilisation; that it was having a corrosive effect on civil society. Anything that undermines civilisation, I think is not good," Musk told the audience.

Despite his support of regulation for AI because of its risks to humanity, he contrarily opposed regulation of Twitter beyond the laws of individual countries because, he argues, there would be a detrimental effect on the freedom of speech.

In an interview with Euronews Next at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, the European Commission’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová said that the "time of the Wild West is over" and that what she characterised as "Mr Musk’s free speech absolutism" would need to comply with the rules.

Confrontations have continued with the EU following Twitter’s decision in May to drop out of the bloc’s voluntary Code of Practice against disinformation. EU leaders blasted the decision, with Jourová saying that "Twitter has chosen a hard way to comply with our digital laws".

As well as noting an all-time high of usage, Musk told VivaTech attendees that he was "optimistic about the future" with advertisers already deciding to come back to the platform or saying they will return.


Decision on Tesla’s latest gigafactory

In their first exchanges on stage, Levy hinted that Musk might make an announcement of some kind if he felt inclined, but there was perhaps a sense of disappointment for some towards the end of the event when there wasn’t.

In one of the many surreal moments of the event where Musk and his fellow panelists danced on the stage together and waved goodbye, one eager audience member shouted "factory for France!"

Speculation began mounting earlier this week that Musk would indeed use his appearance at VivaTech to make an announcement regarding a planned second Tesla gigafactory in Europe.

France, Spain, and Italy are all jockeying to attract investment from the carmaker, with Musk's visits this week to Rome and Paris - where he was hosted by Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni and French president Emmanual Macron - fuelling rumours an announcement was imminent.

Competition is stiff to be the country to seal the deal with the tech magnate. Both the Netherlands and the UK were considered for the site of Tesla’s first European gigafactory. Instead, the prize went to Germany with the Giga Berlin plant opening in 2022.


Neuralink’s first human implant in 2023

In response to the last question from the audience, which came from perhaps one of his youngest French fans in the crowd, Musk confirmed that the first person to receive a neurological implant from his company Neuralink would be later this year.

Neuralink is working on controversial implantable brain-computer interfaces which it believes would ultimately help humans use the power of thought to communicate with and control machines.

Musk announced at the end of May that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had given the company the green light for its first human clinical trials.

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