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Stephen Hawking warns about AI; welcomes new research centre


The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) could be the most disastrous event in human history, said Stephen Hawking at the opening of a new AI research centre at Cambridge University.

“The rise of powerful AI will either be the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity. We do not know which,” said Hawking, who is one of AI’s most prominent critics.

“Perhaps 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.”

However, there are also many potential dangers to making unchecked advances in AI, according to Hawking.

“It will bring great disruption to our economy, and in the future AI could develop a will of its own that is in conflict with ours,” he said.

He also mentioned threats such as the development of powerful autonomous weapons and “new ways for the few to oppress the many”.

Hawking was one of over 1000 experts and researchers to sign an open letter warning of the dangers of artificially intelligent weapons last year.

For the above reasons, Hawking has been involved in the opening of The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI) at Cambridge University.

A collaboration between the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, and Berkeley – California, the centre aims to ensure AI is used to benefit humanity.

It will bring together researchers from multiple disciplines to work with industry representatives and policymakers on projects ranging from the regulation of autonomous weapons to the implications of AI for democracy.

Ethics will be one of the centre’s main research focuses.

According to CFI director Stephen Cave, it is important to ensure that AI systems are aligned with human values and do not evolve in “new, unwelcome directions” (as feared by Hawking).

“CFI aims to pre-empt these dangers,” assured Margaret Boden, a professor of cognitive sciences and one of the centre’s consultants.

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