One of the most frightening scenes in the sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey is when the spaceship’s computer HAL 9000 attempts to kill the two astronauts on board by convincing them to do a space-walk to replace a malfunctioning device outside the spacecraft and then disconnecting their life support systems.
It’s a case of a thinking machine that is capable of making decisions to attain a given objective but is totally devoid of empathy and morality.
That may be science fiction, but for renowned scientist Stephen Hawking, the possibility of intelligent machines posing a threat to mankind’s very existence is real.
“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” he tells the BBC.
Professor Hawking, a theoretical physicist, is thinking of computers that are capable of redesigning and improving themselves, in which case they can develop faster than humans.
“Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded,” he warns.
Hawking also warned before that aliens or extraterrestial beings might not be as friendly as sci-fi movies like E.T. would portray them, and could pose a threat to human existence if they paid us a visit.
Right now, though, a more immediate concern is the loss of employment opportunities as a result of the growing adoption of artificial intelligence in factories, offices and homes.
In his BBC interview, Hawking also talks about the benefits and dangers of the internet.
He agrees with people who have voiced concerns over the use of the internet by terrorists and other criminal groups.
“More must be done by the internet companies to counter the threat, but the difficulty is to do this without sacrificing freedom and privacy,” he says.
Despite his fears, Hawking has been an avid user of technology.
The professor, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neurone disease, is using technology to be able to speak and write.
In fact, his voice machine has been replaced with a new system that allows him to speak faster and more easily, Reuters reports. The new technology was developed by Intel Corp and SwiftKey.
“My old system was more than 20 years’ old and I was finding it very difficult to continue to communicate effectively and to do the things I love to do,” Hawking tells reporters.
“With the improvements made I am now able to write much faster and it means I can continue to give lectures, write papers and books, and meet with my family and friends more easily.
“This new system is life-changing for me and I hope it will serve me well for the next 20 years.”
The new system, which is controlled by an infrared switch mounted on Hawking’s glasses, has doubled his speech rates and sped up common tasks, such as finding a computer file, by about 10 times, according to Reuters, citing Intel Labs engineer Lama Nachman.
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