Artificial Intelligence was not his specialty but he had enough aura to make his voice heard on this subject. Stephen Hawking, a renowned British scientist, astrophysicist and genius specialist in black holes, died on Wednesday at the age of 76 from Charcot's disease. Information that has gone around the world for this man who never departed from his humour when delivering his opinions on AI. What if Stephen Hawking was an early-warner?
Stephen Hawking was a man who loved to cultivate his paradoxes. Earth to earth, rational and scientific, he spent his time with his head in the stars to practice his favourite discipline: astrophysics. The British specialist in black holes died last Wednesday as a result of Charcot's disease. At 76. A last paradox for this subject of His Majesty who loved nothing so much as to enjoy life in spite of the omnipresence of the evil from which he suffered. Stephen Hawking was not afraid of death and preferred to laugh about it. "I've been living with the prospect of an early death for 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die either. There are so many things I want to do first," he explained in The Guardian columns in May 2011.
A speech full of nuances on Artificial Intelligence
A life after life or a hidden paradise, Stephen Hawking was also not the type to believe in it:"I consider the brain as a computer that will stop working when its components fail." He added:"There is no heaven or beyond for broken computers; it is a fairy tale for people who are afraid of the dark." The author of the best-seller A Brief History of Time was a convinced atheist. "Because there are laws like gravity, the universe can and must create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to press the 'on' key and start the universe."
The Oxford native, who died in Cambridge (paradox when you hold us), was not, however, what one could call a mad scientist either. On the contrary, his sensible words have always been a source of inspiration for the general public and his colleagues. Stephen Hawking, an unparalleled popularizer, had no doubt the intention of winning reason over heart or passion. It was so for the field of Artificial Intelligence for which he closely followed the scientific progress and its evolution. Some would probably want to make him look like a killjoy or a conservative. In fact, his speech on the AI was much more nuanced. Aware of the progress made, he especially wanted an for human beings when some people now see it as a money manna, a tool for manipulation or communication and buzz.
"The development of complete artificial intelligence could put an end to humanity."
So yes, Stephen Hawking was with Elon Musk one of the co-signatories of the open letter on autonomous weapons in January 2015. But more than worrying the populations, it was above all a way for him to warn us of the drifts that could result from an uncontrolled or uncontrolled Artificial Intelligence. In December 2014, Stephen Hawking had already thrown the first stone into the pond during an interview with our BBC colleagues:"I think that the development of a complete artificial intelligence could put an end to humanity. Once men had developed artificial intelligence, it would take off alone, and redefine itself more and more quickly. Humans, limited by slow biological evolution, could not compete and would be outdated." At the Lisbon Web Summit in November 2017, he further clarified his thinking:"We must be aware of the dangers, identify them, and use best practices and frameworks to prepare for their consequences well in advance. The rise of AI could be the worst or the best thing that has ever happened to humanity."
This last sentence finally sums up Stephen Hawking's quite well. Far from judging himself omniscient, Stephen Hawking could not predict the future, just try to impose safeguards for those who would try to develop AIs more and more powerful, or even total or directed against his holidaymakers. But Stephen Hawking also had a real hope: that Artificial Intelligence would be beneficial to all and therefore become"the best thing that has ever happened to humanity." In October 2016, at the opening of a research centre on the place of AI in society in Cambridge, he summarised:"We cannot predict what we could achieve when our minds are amplified by AI. Perhaps with the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some of the damage to the nature of the previous one - industrialization. And we can hope to finally eradicate disease and poverty." And to conclude, not without humour:"We spend a lot of time studying history, namely, let's face it, mainly the history of stupidity. It is a welcome change that people study instead the future of intelligence."