Technology has come a long way in the millennia that mankind has thrived. Today we see a collective dependent relationship formed with our most common electronic devices. It seems that most of us would even be lost without our phones, laptops, or tablets.
But what if our beloved technologies would eventually be the cause of humanity’s demise? Could this really be a possible timeline for mankind?
The eminent British physicist Stephen Hawking says yes, but we’re not so sure about that. (See below)
Stephen Hawking’s Warning
Hawking is credited for furthering our understanding of the universe with his theories on gravitational singularities and black holes, so his voice is well respected in both the science community and world at large.
The cosmologist warned that independent artificial intelligence could end humanity, claiming that efforts to produce ‘thinking machines’ pose a threat to our very existence. He told the BBC at an event in London, during which he unveiled a new communications platform:
“The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have, have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”
His warning came in reply to a question about his new voice system, the technology he uses to communicate, which involves a basic form of artificial intelligence. Hawking suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurological disease, and uses artificial intelligence technology as part of a system to help him communicate.
The system that he is using: Super-Intelligent Machines: 7 Robotic Futures was developed in part by the British company Swiftkey. It helps him choose words he might want to say based off how Hawking actually thinks. This technology has already employed a smartphone keyboard app.
Hawking didn’t deny that there are many benefits of the artificial intelligence but he claimed that further refinements on the artificial intelligence program would make it “take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate.”
Hawking said that humans are limited by slow evolution and cannot compete. He showed his fears about the consequences of creating something that can match or surpass humans like his latest upgrade, developed by Intel over the past three years, which will allow the professor to write up to 10 times faster and communicate more effectively with friends, family and students.
The newly-developed platform, which is designed for Hawking, is called Assistive Context Aware Toolkit (ACAT). It uses Hawking’s existing cheek sensor, which is detected by an infrared switch mounted onto his glasses. This is what will help him choose a character on a computer, which means he won’t have to type up to 20% as many characters as usual.
Professor Hawking said:
“Medicine has not been able to cure me, so I rely on technology to help me communicate and live. The development of this system has the potential to improve the lives of disabled people around the world and is leading the way in terms of human interaction and the ability to overcome communication boundaries that once stood in the way.”
Hawking’s debate can be summarized: Once a machine can truly think, it could learn to make improvements to itself and gradually become more and more capable and intelligent. But in the same time, he noted that other potential benefits of this technology could also be significant as he said:
“With the improvements made, I am now able to write much faster, and it means that I can continue to give lectures, write papers and books and, of course, speak with my family and friends more easily. This new system is life changing for me, and I hope it will serve me well for the next 20 years.”
More Concerns About A.I.
Prof Hawking is not alone in fearing the future of artificial intelligence. Earlier this year, Elon Musk, the CEO of the spaceflight company SpaceX and the electric car company Tesla Motors, warned that the technology could someday be more harmful than nuclear weapons.
Speaking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) AeroAstro Centennial Symposium in October, he described artificial intelligence as our ‘biggest existential threat’. He said:
“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with artificial intelligence. I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish.
With artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon. You know those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram, and the holy water, and … he’s sure he can control the demon? [Well, it] doesn’t work out.”
In a later tweet, Musk wrote:
“Hopefully we’re not just the biological boot loader for digital super intelligence. Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable.”
Things To Keep In Mind
Matthew Sparkes wrote in The Telegraph that mainly there are 4 ways that technology could hinder the human race:
- Artificial Intelligence:
In addition to what Professor Hawking said, we can think for a moment of the super-intelligence software that we have now. What would happen if this technology got smarter? And smarter…
“How close are we to that basic thinking machine? Simple artificial intelligence is already being harnessed to design electrical circuits that we don’t fully understand. Some antennae designs produced by genetic algorithms, for example, work better than those conceived by humans – and we aren’t always sure why because they’re too complex.”
- Scientific Disaster
Mistakes always happen. The fears of making any mistake while developing nuclear weapons, or even reactors, are growing. The result of such a mistake could also spell the end of humanity.
- Grey Goo
3D printer technology is growing at a rapid pace. Scientists are even developing 3D printers which can replicate themselves by printing the component parts for a second machine.
“Imagine a machine capable of doing this which is not only microscopically small, but nanoscopically small. So small that it can stack atoms together to make molecules. This could lead to all sorts of advances in manufacturing and medicine: inject a few thousand into a patient and they’ll dissolve a tumor into harmless saline. Millions could float in your car’s engine oil, replacing worn metal on vital components and removing the need for human maintenance.”
- Climate Change
Most people do not give proper attention to the way their actions affect the environment. This carelessness is leading to the degradation of our climate systems. And let’s be honest, mother nature isn’t a force for man to reckon with.
Using Technology Harmoniously
A previous study from the University of Oxford suggested that a third of UK jobs could be replaced by machines over the next two decades. RT reported:
“The study further found that jobs with a salary under £30,000 are almost five times more likely to be replaced than jobs over £100,000.”
This stat is one that appears scary because of our view of our current economy, but what if we could transform that and have basic needs met without having to slave over a job in the same way we do today? While it sounds like a stretch, if we were to use technologies in a harmonious way, we could put the right intention behind what we create and make a world better for us all.
The key would all come down to why. Why would we build this? What purpose does it serve? Does it assist humanity or does it not? So long as we can shift our mindset away from how we currently view our world, we should be able to responsibly incorporate technology into our lives in a way that serves and doesn’t harm.
Could this assimilation of technology and the working class be a blessing in disguise, or a warning sign of many social and economic challenges to come? Let us know your take on the rise of artificial intelligence in the comment section below!
(2) The Daily Mail
(3) The Telegraph
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