3 min read

Professor Stephen Hawking died today (March 14, 2018) aged 76 at his home in Cambridge, UK. Best known for his theory of cosmology that unified quantum mechanics with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, and for his book a Brief History of Time that brought his concepts to a wider general audience, Professor Hawking is quite possibly one of the most important and well-known voices in the scientific world.

Among many things, Professor Hawking had a lot to say about artificial intelligence – its dangers, its opportunities and what we should be thinking about, not just as scientists and technologists, but as humans.

Over the years, Hawking has remained cautious and consistent in his views on the topic constantly urging AI researchers and machine learning developers to consider the wider implications of their work on society and the human race itself.  The machine learning community is quite divided on all the issues Hawking has raised and will probably continue to be so as the field grows faster than it can be fathomed.

Here are 5 widely debated things Stephen Hawking said about AI arranged in chronological order – and if you’re going to listen to anyone, you’ve surely got to listen to him?  

On artificial intelligence ending the human race

The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race….It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.

From an interview with the BBC, December 2014

On the future of AI research

The establishment of shared theoretical frameworks, combined with the availability of data and processing power, has yielded remarkable successes in various component tasks such as speech recognition, image classification, autonomous vehicles, machine translation, legged locomotion, and question-answering systems.

As capabilities in these areas and others cross the threshold from laboratory research to economically valuable technologies, a virtuous cycle takes hold whereby even small improvements in performance are worth large sums of money, prompting greater investments in research. There is now a broad consensus that AI research is progressing steadily, and that its impact on society is likely to increase…. Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.

From Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence, an open letter co-signed by Hawking, January 2015

On AI emulating human intelligence

I believe there is no deep difference between what can be achieved by a biological brain and what can be achieved by a computer. It, therefore, follows that computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence — and exceed it

From a speech given by Hawking at the opening of the Leverhulme Centre of the Future of Intelligence, Cambridge, U.K., October 2016

On making artificial intelligence benefit humanity

Perhaps we should all stop for a moment and focus not only on making our AI better and more successful but also on the benefit of humanity.

Taken from a speech given by Hawking at Web Summit in Lisbon, November 2017

On AI replacing humans

The genie is out of the bottle. We need to move forward on artificial intelligence development but we also need to be mindful of its very real dangers. I fear that AI may replace humans altogether. If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that will outperform humans.

From an interview with Wired, November 2017


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