Artificial intelligence (AI) has the power to eradicate poverty and disease or hasten the end of human civilisation as we know it, celebrated scientist Stephen Hawking told an audience in Cambridge on Wednesday evening.
Speaking at the launch of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI), Hawking said the rise of AI would transform every aspect of our lives and amounted to a global event at a par with the industrial revolution.
CFI brings together four of the world’s leading universities – Cambridge, Oxford, Berkeley and Imperial College, London – to explore the implications of AI for human civilisation.
Hawking said: “Success in creating AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation. But it could also be the last – unless we learn how to avoid the risks. Alongside the benefits, AI will also bring dangers like powerful autonomous weapons or new ways for the few to oppress the many.
“We cannot predict what we might achieve when our own minds are amplified by AI. 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.”
Among the initial research topics of CFI are science, value and the future of intelligence, policy and responsible innovation, autonomous weapons – prospects for regulation, and trust and transparency.
Hawking said: “Intelligence is central to what it means to be human. Everything that our civilisation has achieved is a product of human intelligence, from learning to master fire, to learning to grow food, to understanding the cosmos.
“I believe there is no deep difference between what can be achieved by a biological brain and what can be achieved by a computer. It therefore follows that computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence – and exceed it.”
Hawking said AI research was progressing rapidly. Recent landmarks such as self-driving cars, or a computer winning at the game of Go are signs of what is to come, he said. “Enormous levels of investment are pouring into the technology. The achievements we have seen so far will surely pale against what the coming decades will bring,” he added.
CFI director Huw Price, the Bertrand Russell professor of philosophy at Cambridge, said: “The creation of machine intelligence is likely to be a once-in-a-planet’s-lifetime event. It is a future we humans face together. Our aim is to build a broad community with the expertise and sense of common purpose to make this future the best it can be.”