Date
24 November 2017
Stephen Hawking, the renowned British theoretical physicist, delivers a video message during the inauguration of Web Summit, Europe's biggest tech conference, in Lisbon on November 6. Photo: Reuters
Stephen Hawking, the renowned British theoretical physicist, delivers a video message during the inauguration of Web Summit, Europe's biggest tech conference, in Lisbon on November 6. Photo: Reuters

AI poses threat to humans; future uncertain: Stephen Hawking

Artificial intelligence (AI) could cause great damage to human civilization unless we find a way to control its development, according to renowned physicist Stephen Hawking.  

Delivering a talk at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal on Monday, Hawking warned about the threat that AI poses to the human race, despite the many benefits.

“Success in creating effective AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don’t know,” Hawking said during the speech, CNBC reports.

AI can help undo damage done to nature by humans, eliminate poverty and disease, and transform every aspect of society, Hawking said, but added that the future is uncertain.

“We cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and side-lined, or conceivably destroyed by it,” he said.

AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization, unless humans learn how to prepare for and avert the potential risks, said the famous theoretical physicist.

“[AI] brings dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It could bring great disruption to our economy.”

As an optimist, Hawking, however, added that he believes humans can create AI for “the good of the world”.

“It can work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management, and prepare for its consequences well in advance,” he said.

Speaking about jobs, Hawking said AI and robots are already threatening millions of human jobs, but added that AI can be used for “pro-social purposes”, Forbes reported.

He said there is still plenty of work to be carried out to realize the potential, as it will not happen “by accident”.

In warning about the potential dangers of AI, the British physicist is not alone.  

In recent months, some prominent figures in the tech industry had also voiced concerns on AI, CNBC noted.

Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, for instance, said AI could cause a third world war, and proposed that humans must merge with machines in order to remain relevant in the future.

But there are others, like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who dismiss the doomsday scenarios. 

Describing dark prognostications as “pretty irresponsible”, Zuckerberg said he expects AI to bring about a lot of improvements in the quality of human lives in the next five to 10 years.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 8

Translation by Jonathan Chong with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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JC/RT/RC

EJ Insight writer

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