Job Destruction, Human Extinction and Stephen Hawking’s AI Doomsday Prophecy

The world lost one of its brightest and most intelligent minds of the 21st century when renowned physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, passed away on 14th March, 2018. While his death has left a vacuum difficult to fill, he will continue to stay alive in the numerous theories and beliefs he propounded during his lifetime of 76 years. Its time to revisit one of his pertinent beliefs owing to its great relevance today, the belief that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will lead to job destructions and may ultimately replace humans.

One of the biggest debates today in scientific, industrial and business communities as well as among world governments is AI’s implications for them and the world at large. AI’s promises to revolutionize and bring multiple benefits to both economy and society notwithstanding, the clamor around its risks is continuing to grow louder. The voices of dissent gained all the more credibility when Stephen Hawking chose to side with a potential doomsday theory around AI.

Here are some of the views around AI that the renowned scientist has expressed on multiple occasions.

In an interview to BBC in 2014:

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

 “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate.”

 “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

At the launch of Centre for the Future of Intelligence in 2016:

“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.”

That, he said, could lead to the eradication of disease and poverty and the conquest of climate change. But it could also bring us all sorts of things we didn’t like – autonomous weapons, economic disruption and machines that developed a will of their own, in conflict with humanity.

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

In a Column in The Guardian:

“The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.”

“This in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world. The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.”

In an interview to Wired magazine in 2017:

“The genie is out of the bottle. We need to move forward on artificial intelligence development but we also need to be mindful of its very real dangers. I fear that AI may replace humans altogether. If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that will outperform humans.”

At Web Summit Technology Conference in 2017:

“Success in creating effective AI, could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don’t know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and side-lined, or conceivably destroyed by it,” Hawking said during the speech.

“Unless we learn how to prepare for, and avoid, the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization. It brings dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It could bring great disruption to our economy.”

“I am an optimist and I believe that we can create AI for the good of the world. That 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,” 

Though Hawking has fleetingly expressed hope over AI’s benefits with proper management and governance, his AI doomsday prophecy is a warning capable of coming true considering the continuous advancements in the development of a truly intelligent AI that’s smart enough to think and do better than human beings.

Interestingly Hawking, who was suffering from ALS, used a form of AI and Machine Learning technology that learns how the professor thinks and suggests the words he might want to use next. Ironically, the scientist was wary of the very technology that allowed him to communicate.

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