The invention of artificial intelligence could be the biggest disaster in humanity’s history, Professor Stephen Hawking has said, warning that if thinking machines are not properly managed, they 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,” 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.
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 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 AI that are being achieved faster than many predicted.
Google’s DeepMind subsidiary defeated the world champion of Go earlier this year. On Wednesday Microsoft said it had achieved voice recognition on a par with humans.
Hawking was one of more than 1000 experts and researchers to sign an open letter warning of the perils of AI weapons last year.
As BBC also reprted, His was not the only voice warning of the dangers of AI – Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak also expressed their concerns about where the technology was heading – though Professor Hawking’s was the most apocalyptic vision of a world where robots decide they don’t need us any more.
What all of these prophets of AI doom wanted to do was to get the world thinking about where the science was heading – and make sure other voices joined the scientists in that debate.
That they have achieved that aim was evident on Wednesday night at an event in Cambridge marking the opening of the Centre for the Future of Intelligence, designed to do some of that thinking about the implications of AI.