Stephen Hawking: Artificial intelligence could be the greatest disaster in human history

However the celebrated physicist says there is an alternative and we can harness AI to eradicate disease and poverty

Maya Oppenheim
Thursday 20 October 2016 09:38 BST
Stephen Hawking has a terrifying warning about artificial intelligence

Stephen Hawking has warned artificial intelligence could be the greatest disaster in human history if it is not properly managed.

The world famous physicist said AI could bring about serious peril in the creation of powerful autonomous weapons and novel ways for those in power to oppress and control the masses.

Hawking suggested AI could be the last event in the history of our civilisation if humanity did not learn to cope with the risks it posed.

But the cosmologist and professor also said AI could have great benefits and potentially erase poverty and disease.

“We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly the history of stupidity. So it’s a welcome change that people are studying instead the future of intelligence,” Hawking said at the opening of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (LCFI) at Cambridge University on Wednesday.

“The potential benefits of creating intelligence are huge…” he continued. “With the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some of the damage done to the natural world by the last one - industrialisation. And surely we will aim to finally eradicate disease and poverty. Every aspect of our lives will be transformed. 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.”

Hawking explained that in the future, AI could develop a “will of its own” which could be in conflict with the desires of 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".

Hawking suggested there is no distinction between what could be attained by the biological brain and a computer, even arguing that computers can eclipse and outdo human intelligence. He cited the creation of self-driving cars and computers ability to win at Go as evidence of its advance but called for more research to be done in the area of AI.

Hawking has spoken out about AI on a number of occasions and previously said AI could spell the end of the human race.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in