Professor Stephen Hawking has revealed in an interview with the BBC that he believes, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Since Professor Hawking is in possession of one of the most intelligent human brains on the planet, his words merit further examination, particularly since they come hot on the heels of similar warnings from Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

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Hawking’s statement came in the context of discussing his new speech-enabling equipment, which is better able to predict his words based on his past usage patterns. While acknowledging the benefits of the limited artificial intelligence (AI) available today, in imagining a far more sophisticated technology he said: “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.” Back in April Hawking co-authored an article in The Huffington Post, which said of the risks of AI, “Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.”

Related: Stephen Hawking Urges Continued Space Exploration So As We Can Outlive Our “Fragile Planet”

In a Tweet on 2 August, 2014, Elon Musk commented, “We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.” On 24 October, Musk repeated the sentiment at MIT’s AeroAstro100 conference, saying of AI, “If I were 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.”

Not everyone agrees with these dystopian visions of the future for AI. Live Science quoted Charlie Ortiz, head of AI at Nuance Communications, as saying the concerns are “way overblown.” He added: “I don’t see any reason to think that as machines become more intelligent … which is not going to happen tomorrow — they would want to destroy us or do harm. I’d like to think the opposite. As we become more intelligent, as a race we become kinder and more peaceful and treat people better.” Anyone else hear that uncomfortable silence?

You can view Professor Hawking’s interview at the BBC here. His comments regarding AI come at around the 4:15 mark.

Via Live Science

Photos by Doug Wheller via Wikimedia Commons and Sean Davis via Flickr