As Stephen Hawking has once again warned the world that humanity’s self-destruction is nigh, the prominent physicist and some of his doomsday buddies were nominated for an award pegging them as modern-day Chicken Littles.
The award was the 2015 “Luddite Award,” given to Hawking and a group of 1,000 science and technology luminaries for their warning last year about the Terminator-style dangers of artificial intelligence and so-called “killer robots,” the Christian Science Monitor reported. Also on that list are Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak.
But Stephen’s more recent comments about humanity’s destruction weren’t the inspiration for this award. Hawking made those comments on January 7 while recording annual Reith Lectures for the BBC, the Associated Press reported.
— ITIF (@ITIFdc) January 19, 2016
In this terrifying apocalyptic prediction, Hawking suggests that humanity is headed for its catastrophic end in 1,000 to 10,000 years — and it’ll be all our fault. But there is a shred of hope because, by then, we’ll likely already have new homes on other planets.
“However, we will not establish self-sustaining colonies in space for at least the next hundred years, so we have to be very careful in this period. We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we have to recognize the dangers and control them. I’m an optimist, and I believe we can.”
So what will be our undoing, exactly? Not killer robots this time, but nuclear war, global warming, and genetically engineered viruses. Basically, Hawking contends that humanity’s newly-created technologies have birthed new ways we can kill ourselves en masse — either via a massive bomb, violent storms, or a virulent disease.
Of course, Stephen’s warnings aren’t new. The idea that man’s progression on Earth will ultimately spell his doom has been expounded by other people before and in other centuries.
“The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction; and often finish the dreadful work themselves.”
That terrifying prediction was uttered by British economist and demographer Thomas Malthus — in 1798.
The letter that Stephen and his colleagues signed last year warned of a “great army of destruction” — artificial intelligence — leading to their nomination for the Luddite Award (the Luddites, by the way, protested the new technologies ushered in by the Industrial Revolution).
The letter, signed by Stephen Hawking and 1,000 researchers, experts, and business leaders, said artificial intelligence is feasible within the next few years, at which point these autonomous weapons will usher in the “third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”
“If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the end point of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow.”
The think tank that gives out the Luddite Award, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), wasn’t in the least bit impressed or cowed by these doomsday warnings, noting that such ideas are actually dangerous to the advancement of technologies that could ultimately prove very beneficial to mankind, the Independent reported.
According to Business Insider, the think tank put forth 10 nominees in December, and the general public picked the winner; Stephen Hawking and the AI apocalypse proponents earned 27 percent of the vote.
The ITIF called Hawking and his friends “alarmists” intent on “feverish hand-wringing,” as its president, Robert Atkinson, put it.
“It is deeply unfortunately that luminaries such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have contributed to feverish hand-wringing about a looming artificial intelligence apocalypse. They are pioneers of science and technology. But they and others have done a disservice to the public – and have unquestionably given aid and comfort to an increasingly pervasive neo-Luddite impulse in society today – by demonising AI in the popular imagination.”
What do you think? Do Stephen Hawking’s warnings — about AI, global warming, or manmade epidemics — make you a little worried?
[Image via Dan Kitwood/Shutterstock]