Even Stephen Hawking is unsure about what AI means for us

Even Stephen Hawking doesn’t know if AI will be good or bad

He is regularly cited as the world’s smartest human, but even respected physicist Stephen Hawking doesn’t know what the future of artificial intelligence holds for humanity. However, he is confident AI will “transform every aspect of our lives” and thinks it could become “the biggest event in the history of our civilization.”

Hawking’s also been very skeptical of the benefits of AI, having previously cautioned that its development could spell the end for mankind. However at the opening of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence in Cambridge, which will investigate the implications of the rapid development of AI, Hawking admitted he simply doesn’t know if the outcome will be good or bad.

“In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which,” Hawking said in a short speech outlining the pros and cons of AI.

Artificial Intelligence is once again a hot topic in the world of tech and beyond. It is one of the overarching topics on HBO’s latest big budget series Westworld, where amusement park robots begin killing visitors. But despite Hawking’s concerns about the dangers of AI, he is open to the positives too.

The technology could be used to eradicate disease and poverty as well as helping to tackle climate change, Hawking said, but such benefits have to be weighed against the possible downsides. “[AI] will also bring dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons or new ways for the few to oppress the many.”

Advancements in AI are happening at an ever increasing rate as more companies put greater and greater resources into developing a technology which can mimic the way the human brain works. “I believe there is no deep difference between what can be achieved by a biological brain and what can be achieved by a computer,” Hawking said on Wednesday. “It therefore follows that computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence – and exceed it.”

Recent advancements in self-driving cars, human voice recognition, robot journalism and a robot with the ability to beat humans at the complex game of Go have shown the world that the era of AI has begun.

Hawking is not alone in worrying about the unchecked advancements in AI, with tech luminaries such as Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and Elon Musk all expressing similar opinions about the inherent dangers that might arise if we give machines too much autonomy.

The research carried out at The Leverhulme Centre in Cambridge will be “crucial to the future of our civilisation and of our species” according to Hawking, and will see philosophers, psychologists, lawyers and computer scientists work together to look at the implications of everything from smartphones to robots and military drones.

Cover: Imaginechina

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