London (dpa/Reuters) – Machines that think could make humans redundant and finish life as we know it, British physicist Stephen Hawking warned Tuesday.
“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” the Cambridge scientist told the BBC.
He warned that primitive forms of artificial intelligence have proved useful but an existential danger lies in creating automatons that can out-think humans.
“It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” the 72-year-old said. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”
Professor Hawking, showing off the latest interface from chip fabricator Intel that allows him to communicate despite the ravages of motor neuron disease, said the new software had doubled his speech rate, improved his productivity 10 times over and would allow him to keep on writing and lecturing for years to come.
“We’re pushing the boundaries of what is possible through technology.
Without it, I wouldn’t be able to speak to you today.”
The software, which is open source rather than proprietary and so available cheaply, learns the words and phrases Hawking uses often, allowing him to type and speak more quickly.
The software interfaces with an infra-red sensor on his glasses and picks up the movement of his cheek.
“Medicine hasn’t been able to cure me so I rely on technology to help me communicate and live,” Hawking said.
“My old system was more than 20 years’ old and I was finding it very difficult to continue to communicate effectively and to do the things I love to do,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“With the improvements made I am now able to write much faster and it means I can continue to give lectures, write papers and books, and meet with my family and friends more easily.
“This new system is life-changing for me and I hope it will serve me well for the next 20 years.”
Intel said it had been working on the new platform, called ACAT (Assistive Context Aware Toolkit), in collaboration with Hawking for three years.
The new system, which is controlled by an infrared switch mounted on Hawking’s glasses, has doubled his speech rates and sped up common tasks, such as finding a computer file, by about 10 times, Intel Labs engineer Lama Nachman said.
It uses predictive text algorithms developed with six-year-old British software company SwiftKey, similar to those found on smartphones, to select words after inputting just 10-15 per cent of letters, significantly reducing the effort and time required.
The software will be made public early next year so it can be used to help other people with motor neuron diseases, quadriplegia and other disabilities.
“By making this technology freely available it has the potential to greatly improve the lives of disabled people all over the world,” Hawking said.