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​Stephen Hawking: AI could be "best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity"

Stephen Hawking has plenty to say about the promise and peril of artificial intelligence. His commentary on the development of computer systems with the ability to think for themselves is always concise, deeply astute and often astounding.

And that's the case whether he's pontificating alongside some of science and technology's greatest minds as part of the Future of Life Institute (FLI), which focuses on mitigating the possible threats of AI, or chatting with the masses online. Hawking released answers to a Reddit AMA Thursday, in which he talked AI, comedy and girls.

Hawking opened the "Ask Me Anything" discussion at the end of July after FLI released a letter warning of the potential for an artificial intelligence military arms race. Redditors submitted over 9,000 questions. He answered 10 of them. (Unlike typical AMAs, which take place in real time, Hawking had help reviewing questions and choosing which ones to print answers to.)

In his responses, Hawking suggested that there exists a point at which AI becomes better at designing AI than humans are. "If this happens, we may face an intelligence explosion that ultimately results in machines whose intelligence exceeds ours by more than ours exceeds that of snails," he wrote.

He went on to assert that once artificially intelligent systems reach or surpass human intelligence, "it's likely to be either the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity."

Hawking also chastised the media for often misrepresenting his views on the dangers of AI and those of his FLI co-advisor Elon Musk, by painting a picture of an evil machine uprising. (Some choice sound bites? Musk: "With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the devil." Hawking: "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.")

In the AMA, Hawking clarified: "The real risk with AI isn't malice but competence. A super-intelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren't aligned with ours, we're in trouble. You're probably not an evil ant-hater who steps on ants out of malice, but if you're in charge of a hydroelectric green energy project and there's an anthill in the region to be flooded, too bad for the ants.

Let's not place humanity in the position of those ants."

He also took a few non-AI questions, teaching us that he doesn't remember seeing "Wayne's World 2" and that the funniest he saw online recently was CBS's "The Big Bang Theory."

The one mystery he finds most intriguing?


"Although I have a PhD in physics, women should remain a mystery," Hawking said in closing.

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