Stephen Hawking Launches Centre for the Future of Intelligence

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Stephen Hawking (NASA HQ)


By Ben Blanchard | BEIJING / 10.19.2016

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Artificial intelligence has the power to eradicate poverty and disease or hasten the end of human civilisation as we know it – according to a speech delivered by Professor Stephen Hawking this evening.

Speaking at the launch of the £10million Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI) in Cambridge, Professor Hawking said the rise of AI would transform every aspect of our lives and was a global event on 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. Together, an interdisciplinary community of researchers will work closely with policy-makers and industry investigating topics such as the regulation of autonomous weaponry, and the implications of AI for democracy.

“Success in creating AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation,” said Professor Hawking. “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.”

The Centre for the Future of Intelligence will initially focus on seven distinct projects in the first three-year phase of its work, reaching out to brilliant researchers and connecting them and their ideas to the challenges of making the best of AI. Among the initial research topics are: ‘Science, value and the future of intelligence’; ‘Policy and responsible innovation’; ‘Autonomous weapons – prospects for regulation’ and ‘Trust and transparency’.

The Academic Director of the Centre, and Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge, Huw Price, 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.”

Many researchers now take seriously the possibility that intelligence equal to our own will be created in computers within this century. Freed of biological constraints, such as limited memory and slow biochemical processing speeds, machines may eventually become more intelligent than we are – with profound implications for us all.

AI pioneer Professor Maggie Boden (University of Sussex) sits on the Centre’s advisory board and spoke at this evening’s launch. She said: “AI is hugely exciting. Its practical applications can help us to tackle important social problems, as well as easing many tasks in everyday life. And it has advanced the sciences of mind and life in fundamental ways. But it has limitations, which present grave dangers given uncritical use. CFI aims to pre-empt these dangers, by guiding AI development in human-friendly ways.”

“Recent landmarks such as self-driving cars or a computer game winning at the game of Go, are signs of what’s to come,” added Professor Hawking. “The rise of powerful AI will either be the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which. The research done by this centre is crucial to the future of our civilisation and of our species.”

Transcript of Professor Hawking’s speech at the launch of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, October 19, 2016

“It is a great pleasure to be here today to open this new Centre.  We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly the history of stupidity.  So it is a welcome change that people are studying instead the future of intelligence.

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.

Artificial intelligence research is now 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.  Enormous levels of investment are pouring into this technology.  The achievements we have seen so far will surely pale against what the coming decades will bring.

The potential benefits of creating intelligence are huge.  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.  And surely we will aim to finally eradicate disease and poverty.  Every aspect of our lives will be transformed.  In short, 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.   It will bring great disruption to our economy.  And in the future, AI could develop a will of its own — a will that is in conflict with ours.

In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity.  We do not yet know which.  That is why in 2014, I and a few others called for more research to be done in this area.  I am very glad that someone was listening to me!

The research done by this centre is crucial to the future of our civilisation and of our species.  I wish you the best of luck!”

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