Stephen Hawking says artificial intelligence could be humanity's greatest disaster

Professor Stephen Hawking says AI could bring about new ways for the few to oppress the many. Photo / File
Professor Stephen Hawking says AI could bring about new ways for the few to oppress the many. Photo / File

The invention of artificial intelligence could be the biggest disaster in humanity's history, Professor Stephen Hawking has said, warning that if they are not properly managed, thinking machines could spell the end for civilisation.

"The rise of powerful AI will be either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity. We do not know which," the British physicist said.

He was speaking at the opening of a new Cambridge centre that will seek to address the potential dangers and conundrums of AI.

Professor Hawking, a prominent critic of making unchecked advances in AI, said that the technology promised to bring great benefits, such as eradicating disease and poverty, but "will also bring dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons or new ways for the few to oppress the many".

"It will bring great disruption to our economy, and in the future AI could develop a will of its own that is in conflict with ours," he said.

His comments come amid breakthroughs in artificial intelligence that are being achieved faster than many predicted. Google's DeepMind subsidiary defeated the world champion of the ancient board game Go earlier this year. On Wednesday, Microsoft said it had achieved voice recognition on a par with humans.

Professor Hawking has been one of the most high-profile sceptics about AI. He was one of more than 1,000 other experts and researchers to sign an open letter warning of the perils of artificially intelligent weapons last year.

The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence is a collaboration between the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College London and Berkeley in California.

Stephen Hawking. Photo / File
Stephen Hawking. Photo / File

In quotes: Stephen Hawking

• On intelligence: "Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change."
• On celebrity: "The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognised. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away."
• On his disability: "It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability. One has to get on with life and I haven't done badly."
• On his favourite superhero: "If I had to choose a superhero to be, I would pick Superman. He's everything that I'm not."
• On human nature: "We are all different, but we share the same human spirit. Perhaps it's human nature that we adapt and survive."
• On staying curious: "I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these 'how' and 'why' questions. Occasionally, I find an answer."
• On death: "I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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