Professor Stephen Hawking is Scared of AI “Incompetence”

Professor Stephen Hawking has been very vocal about the dangers of artificial intelligence – once warning that it could destroy humanity – and now the theoretical physicist has clarified the root of his fears. During a reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), Professor Hawking, in response to a teacher bored of having “The Terminator Conversation” with students, said, “The real risk with AI isn’t malice but competence.”

Hawking, however, also warned of intelligent robots that are too efficient, adding, “A superintelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren’t aligned with ours, we’re in trouble.” So, unless we can find a middle-ground between under- and over-competence, we’re screwed, according to the eminent scientist.

“You’re probably not an evil ant-hater who steps on ants out of malice, but if you’re in charge of a hydroelectric green energy project and there’s an anthill in the region to be flooded, too bad for the ants,” Hawking said. “Let’s not place humanity in the position of those ants.”

Hawking even posed his own question to reddit users, asking people if they are afraid of being made obsolete by AI. “Have you thought about the possibility of technological unemployment[1] , where we develop automated processes that ultimately cause large unemployment by performing jobs faster and/or cheaper than people can perform them?” he asked. He later answers his own question, stating, “So far, the trend seems to be toward [machine owners controlling the economy], with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”

The sentiment was summed up effectively by reddit user beeegoood, who lamented, “Oh man, that’s depressing.”

Image courtesy of The Washington Post.