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Tech Industry Pays Tribute To Stephen Hawking

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

Rest in peace. The world has lost one of its finest minds with the passing of Professor Stephen Hawking

The world this week is acknowledging the contribution and life of Professor Stephen Hawking, who  died on Wednesday, aged 76.

Tributes for the man widely considered to be one of the greatest minds on the planet have poured in from the tech industry and from politicians around the world.

It comes after the Hawking family confirmed that the respected professor died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday.

Tech tributes

Professor Hawking was a supporter of technology, although he was not afraid to speak his mind about its potential risks, as evidenced by his strong comments on artificial intelligence (AI).

Professor Hawking had been diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease aged just 22 in 1964 and was given just a couple years to live.

Yet he defied expectations and lived for over 50 years after his diagnosis, despite the fact that his condition typically kills one-third of people within a year, and more than half within two years of diagnosis.

That said, Hawking became confined to a wheelchair and was dependent on a computerised voice system for communication.

Nevertheless, he continued to travel the world giving lectures and writing scientific papers about the laws that govern the universe.

Hawking also appeared in television programs, most notably his numerous appearances on the comedy series “The Big Bang Theory.

The tech industry was among those mourning the passing of the Hawking.

“We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit. Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking,” tweeted Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web.

“The world has lost a beautiful mind and a brilliant scientist,” tweeted Alphabet’s (Google) CEO Sundar Pichai.

“We lost a great one today”, tweeted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “Stephen Hawking will be remembered for his incredible contributions to science – making complex theories and concepts more accessible to the masses. He’ll also be remembered for his spirit and unbounded pursuit to gain a complete understanding of the universe, despite the obstacles he faced. May he rest peacefully as his legacy and brilliance live on.”

“Sad to hear about Stephen Hawking,” tweeted Brian Cox. “What a remarkable life. His contributions to science will be used as long as there are scientists, and there are many more scientists because of him. He spoke about the value and fragility of human life and civilisation and greatly enhanced both.”

NASA was also one of those paid tribute.

“Remembering Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist and ambassador of science,” tweeted NASA. “His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014.”

AI warnings

Professor Hawking was a great believer in technology, and he frequently pointed out that humanity’s future lay in utilising technology to help colonise another planet.

And some of tech’s biggest entrepreneurs are now racing to make that vision a reality, as evidenced by the efforts of SpaceX, the company founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his space exploration firm, Blue Origin.

But Hawking was not afraid to warn about possible risks and dangers about technology, and he made public his very real concerns about artificial intelligence a few years ago, along with other tech leaders.

In late 2014 for example Professor Hawking warned that artificial intelligence could spell the end of life as we know it on Planet Earth, and even suggested that mankind was facing a judgement day scenario.

And then in 2015 Hawking predicted that humanity has just 100 years left before the machines take over.

That same year he also signed an open letter calling for a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control, such as AI drones, to prevent humanity from entering a military AI arms race.

Hawking later moderated his position and said that AI will be “either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity”.

RIP Professor Hawking.

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