Stephen Hawking: Artificial Intelligence Will End Us

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Scientist receives an upgrade to his communication technology but issues warning about the future of AI

Professor Stephen Hawking has warned that artificial intelligence could spell the end of life as we know it on Planet Earth, suggesting mankind faces judgement day.

His fears about the dangers of AI came in response to a question about the revamping of the technology he uses in order to communicate, telling the BBC that “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

Doomed Humanity?

Stephen HawkingHawking is wheel-chair bound by the medical condition motor neurone disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). His speech computer makes use of a basic form of AI, but he is now using a new system developed by Intel to speak.

This new Intel-powered system has featured the involvement of the British company Swiftkey, which specialises in machine learning. Its technology has been used for a smartphone keyboard app for a number of years now, and it learns how the professor thinks and suggests the words he might want to use next.

Hawking admitted that the primitive forms of artificial intelligence developed so far (think Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana etc) have already proved very useful. However he is worried that machines could eventually overtake humans.

“It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” he told the BBC. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Open The Pod Bay Doors

The professor is not the first to be concerned about artificial intelligence.

In October, Elon Musk, the South Africa-born inventor and entrepreneur best known as the co-founder of PayPal and chief executive of both SpaceX and Tesla Motors, warned against the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI), describing it as an “existential threat”.

Musk compared the construction of artificial minds to the calling up of unknown forces that could easily go beyond the inventor’s control.

“With artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon,” Musk said. “You know those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram, and the holy water, and … he’s sure he can control the demon? Doesn’t work out.”

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