Artificial intelligence, “the best or worst thing that has happened to mankind,” Hawking said

Artificial intelligence was not the specialty of Stephen Hawking, rather famous for his work on black holes and the secrets of the universe. But in recent years, the voice of this eminent British astrophysicist, who died Wednesday, March 14, had become one of the most powerful in alerting public opinion to the implications of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

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“I think the development of a complete artificial intelligence could end humanity”, he declared in December 2014 in an interview with the BBC. “Once humans have developed artificial intelligence, it would take off on its own, and redefine itself faster and faster,” he said. Humans, limited by slow biological evolution, could not compete and would be overwhelmed. “

These words had a strong echo, while artificial intelligence technologies have known, since the beginning of the 2010s, significant progress – in particular thanks to the advances in deep learning, linked to the computing power and the masses of data now. accessible.

” Arms race “

A few months later, Stephen Hawking was, alongside Tesla boss Elon Musk, one of the most prestigious signatories of an open letter calling for a ban on “killer robots”. More than a thousand personalities, including a majority of researchers in AI and robotics, had expressed their fear of an “arms race with AI”, referring to technologies capable “of selecting and fighting targets without human intervention ”. The authors of this letter also feared that these technologies could fall into the hands of terrorists, dictators, and warlords.

More recently, at the Lisbon Web Summit in November, the astrophysicist, also adviser to the Future of Life Institute in charge of studying the risks of AI, called for the urgent adoption of “rules” to frame the research on artificial intelligence. “We need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, and employ best practices and frameworks to prepare for their consequences well in advance,” he said at a conference. The rise of AI could be the worst or the best thing that has ever happened to humanity. “

“Finally eradicate disease and poverty”

Because if Stephen Hawking’s fears about AI have often been put forward, regularly associated with Elon Musk’s alarmist statements, the British researcher had a nuanced opinion on these technologies, which he also considered to be hopeful.

In October 2016, he declared, on the occasion of the opening of a research center on the place of AI in society at the University of Cambridge, that the potential benefits of AI were “enormous. “.

“We can’t predict what we might achieve when our minds are amplified by AI. Perhaps with the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some damage to the nature of the previous one – industrialization. And we can hope to finally eradicate disease and poverty. “

“AI could be the most important event in the history of our civilization,” he added. The astrophysicist then hailed the creation of this research center, with his famous sense of humor: “We spend a lot of time studying history, namely, let’s face it, mainly the history of stupidity. It is a welcome change that people are studying the future of intelligence instead. “

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