Artificial intelligence could spell end of human race – Stephen Hawking
Technology will eventually become self-aware and supersede humanity, says astrophysicist
Prof Stephen Hawking has been in partnership with Intel for over 25 years.
The development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race, Professor Stephen Hawking has said.
The famous astrophysicist said he believed technology would eventually become self-aware and supersede humanity, as it developed faster than biological evolution.
Hawking told the BBC: “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.”
Hawking – who as a result of his motor neurone disease is almost totally paralysed – also spoke of how he had received a “life-changing upgrade” to the computer software that allows him to communicate.
Hawking now uses a system that incorporates predictive text, allowing him to type twice as quickly as before and send emails ten times faster.
“I was finding it very difficult to continue to communicate effectively and so do the things I love to do,” he told a press conference in London for the launch of the new Intel software platform.
“With the improvements made, I am now able to write much faster and that means I can continue to give lectures, write papers and books, and, of course, speak with my family and friends more easily.
“Medicine has not been able to cure me, so I rely on technology to help me communicate and live,” he said.
Hawking has chosen to retain his familiar, slightly robotic sounding voice despite being offered something more natural.
“We are pushing the boundaries of what is possible through technology – without it I would not be able to speak to you today,” he said. “Intel’s research and development is bringing about changes in the world and in the way that disabled people can communicate.”
Hawking has been in partnership with Intel for over 25 years. His MND is related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He was diagnosed in 1963, when he was 21, and given just two years to live. He turned 72 on 8 January 2014.
This is the first upgrade to his communications system for nearly 20 years. “I hope it will serve me well for the next 20 years,” he said.
The new ease with which Hawking speaks belies the effort he needs to expend to create even the simplest sentence. In order to be heard, he must first write a sentence using only a single muscle in his cheek, which is then sent to a voice processor.
To use the Intel software, an infrared sensor attached to his glasses allows Hawking to control the software by moving the muscle in his cheek. As he selects letters, predictive text offers him options for completing the word, which speeds up the process.
Using these predictions, he now needs to key only about 15-20 percent of the characters in any document. It has doubled his writing speed, which had gradually fallen to less than a word a minute after he lost the use of his hands and had to give up using a hand switch.
The software will be released to developers and researchers in January 2015, and will be made freely available to anyone who wishes to download it.
“Opening a document used to take 3-4 minutes. The new system uses a specific icon and takes about 10 seconds,” said Lama Nachman, principal engineer and project Leader at Intel. She spent many hours working with Hawking as he tested the software.
“I think he likes finding the bugs,” said Nachman, describing how he would smile every time he found a glitch in their Windows-based software.
“This software has the ability to help a much larger community of disabled people. So, to make that happen we decided to open-source the software. We are going to offer it for free to people from January next year,” said Nachman.
There are three million people afflicted with MND and quadriplegia. The software has been designed in a modular way that makes it customisable. It could be controlled by touch, eye blinks, eyebrow movements and other gestures. This means it could be tailored to the specific needs of other users.
• This article was amended on 3 December 2014. An earlier version said that Hawking was diagnosed with MND in 1961 rather than 1963.