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May 13, 2015

Stephen Hawking: Underestimating AI could be ‘our worst mistake ever’

The Cambridge physicist spoke at the Zeitgeist conference in London.

By Alexander Sword

Stephen Hawking has predicted that computers will be more intelligent than humans within 100 years.

Speaking at Google’s Zeitgeist conference in London, he said:

"…evolution implies that there can be no qualitative difference between the brain of an earthworm and that of a human. It therefore follows that computers can, in principle, emulate human intelligence or even better it. Up until now, computers have obeyed Moore’s Law, which says that computers double their speed and memory capacity every two years. "

"Human intelligence may also increase because of genetic engineering, but not so fast. The result is that computers are likely to overtake humans with intelligence within the next 100 years. "When that happens, we need to make sure the computers have goals aligned with ours.

"It’s tempting to dismiss a notion of highly intelligent machines as mere science fiction, but this would be a mistake, and potentially our worst mistake ever.

He emphasised the role of technology companies in furthering this research, singling out innovations such as self-driving cars but claiming these were just the beginning.

"Artificial intelligence research is now progressing rapidly. Recent landmarks such as self-driving cars, a computer winning at Jeopardy, and the digital personal assistants…are merely symptoms of an IT arms race.

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"Such achievements will probably pale against what the coming decade will bring. The potential benefits are huge; everything civilisation has to offer is a product of human intelligence. We cannot predict what might be achieved when this intelligence is amplified by the tools AI may provide.

The celebrated Cambridge physicist was one of many speakers at the London conference from a number of disciplines. Also present were ‘Generation X’ writer Douglas Coupland, who is notable for satirising the digital age in novels such as JPod, and celebrities such as David and Victoria Beckham.

Former speakers have included Google’s Larry Page and former US President Bill Clinton.

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