Stephen Hawking and the Fear of Artificial Intelligence


The theory has been promoted by the likes of Ray Kurzweil, with the concept of the Singularity, where Artificial Intelligence (AI) provides machines with the ability to be more powerful than humans. Entrepreneur Elon Musk, one of the co-founders of PayPal has also called AI one of the biggest threats to humanity. Hawking, is by no measure considered to be a fear monger, but according to some detractors, AI may be contributing to the eventual destruction of the human race.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Professor Stephen Hawking expresses the view, that once true Artificial Intelligence is achieved, it will be possible for the rate of AI to accelerate independently without human intervention, which is limited by the slow biological functions on which it is still dependent.

With the processing power and availability of computer technology, the progression in advancement of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence is accelerating at remarkable rates. The so-called AI technology is used to diagnose diseases, and even human emotions, as well as providing accurate navigational help, and there is some progress being made in treating diseases. However, some experts disagree on whether, or even when machines will ever match humans in intelligence.

Stephen HawkingOne argument says that there is no need to be alarmed, as the day when machine intelligence approaches that of humans is a very long way off. According to this argument, the secret encoded in the DNA molecule was not discovered until six decades ago, and neuroscientists still have no idea of how the mind works. The amount of unknown still far exceeds the known, and there is still an exceedingly long way to go to understand concepts such as thought and common senses, and it may even be impossible to reduce them to rules and logic.

However, the argument does not take the accelerating rate of the effect of computing power, and should not be easily dismissed. Some theorists, such as Stephen Hawking, who have expressed alarm at the accelerating rate of AI, have acknowledged that the time may not be near, but still insist that the threat is real and must be taken seriously.

Stephen Hawking, who speaks with the aid of a synthesiser which is operated with his cheek, since being stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21, is the author of several books including the bestseller, A Brief history of Time. He has also expressed some concern with the use of the Internet, which he states is becoming a haven for activities such as terrorism, and urges the authorities to do something about it.

The pronouncements made by Stephen Hawking should be seen as a wake-up call. Fear of machines becoming smarter than humans, leading to the eventual destruction of the human race, as stated by Professor Stephen Hawking, may or may not be warranted.  What appears to be omitted, is the fact that computing capacity and technology is rapidly outpacing all other technologies, and may be largely responsible for the advances made in all other areas. However, an area that may elicit concern, and one with some which experts agree, is that, before the era is approached,  there should be some expressed rules and regulations that should govern the use, and they should not be implemented as an afterthought, as is often done, because by then it may be too late.

By Dale Davidson


Photo courtesy  James Vaughn – Creative Commons License



The Independent

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