Stephen Hawking: AI (Artificial Intelligence) May Cause Our Demise

Image: Stephen Hawking: AI (Artificial Intelligence) May Cause Our Demise

Tuesday, 06 May 2014 01:10 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Stephen Hawking warns AI, or artificial intelligence, could one day prove detrimental to mankind if humans fail to control it.

In an article for The Independent, Hawking wrote that though "it's tempting to dismiss the notion of highly intelligent machines as mere science fiction. But this would be a mistake, and potentially our worst mistake in history."

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While acknowledging the obvious benefits artificial intelligence offers civilization, the 72-year-old theoretical physicist pointed out that such a technological advancement might be eclipsed by the potential risks that will accompany the increased reliance on machines.

"One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand," Hawking wrote in The Independent. "Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all."

"In the near term, world militaries are considering autonomous-weapon systems that can choose and eliminate targets," Hawking added. "The UN and Human Rights Watch have advocated a treaty banning such weapons."

Hawking drew the comparison of the threat of unharnessed artificial intelligence to that of a superior alien civilization fast approaching the earth. The theoretical physicist said if humans were to receive "a message saying, 'We'll arrive in a few decades,' would we just reply, 'OK, call us when you get here — we'll leave the lights on?' Probably not — but this is more or less what is happening with AI."

Earlier this year, Hawking dispelled another potential risk that is beyond our control: the theory that our planet could be destroyed by an event horizon.

"There is no escape from a black hole in classical theory," Hawking told Nature.com in January. However, quantum theory "enables energy and information to escape from a black hole."

An event horizon theoretically occurs when the gravitational pull of a black hole becomes so powerful that nothing can escape.

According to Hawking, to fully explain the process, it would require a theory that merged gravity with the other fundamental forces of nature.

"The correct treatment," Hawking added, "remains a mystery."

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