Stephen Hawking warned about dangers of artificial intelligence

Professor Stephen Hawking was best known for his work as a physicist, but he also held strong views on artificial intelligence (AI), raising concerns over its possible threat to humanity.

He voiced fears that one day powerful AI technology could be developed that was capable of improving itself until it was superior to humanity.

He had said the scenario was a “real danger”.

“I fear AI may replace humans altogether,” he told Wired magazine last year.

“If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that improves and replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that outperforms humans.”

Basic versions of artificial intelligence have become increasingly prominent in mainstream life, with AI-driven software now common in smartphones and at the heart of smart home speakers such as the Amazon Echo, which is powered by AI virtual assistant Alexa.

Stephen Hawking said he feared AI might replace humans altogether (Joe Giddens/PA)

Prof Hawking suggested that the creation of powerful AI in the future would be a key moment in human history, but without proper caution could also be a threat.

Speaking in 2016 at the launch of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, where research into the rapid development of AI takes place, Prof Hawking said: “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.

“In short, success in creating AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation. But it could also be the last unless we learn how to avoid the risks.

“Alongside the benefits, AI 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 – a will that is in conflict with ours.

“In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity. We do not know which.”

He was also one of 100 experts to sign an open letter to the United Nations in 2015 warning of the dangers of unchecked AI development, with SpaceX founder Elon Musk also among the signatories.

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