What will destroy humanity first: Artificial intelligence or climate change?

By: | Published: October 16, 2018 12:52 AM

Hawking’s hypothesis of eventual machine dominance may just lose to climate change destroying the planet before AI does

Stephen Hawking (File photo)

One of the most brilliant minds to have graced the planet, Stephen Hawking, throughout his life, was curiously sceptical of artificial intelligence (AI), the flavour of the moment in technology. Stephen Hawking never doubted AI’s prowess; in fact, to the contrary, he believed it would surpass human intelligence and, thus, machines could one day seize control from humans. In his last book, Brief Answers to Big Questions, the scientist predicts that machine-learning will lead to a super-intelligent AI and “a super-intelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren’t aligned with ours we’re in trouble”.

Comparing the human race to an anthill in a region that will soon get flooded, the late physicist also predicted that the Earth will be destroyed, either due to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the ensuing warfare or a human-made environmental disaster.

However, there will be certain humans who will manage to evade these catastrophes. Such humans, he claims, would have benefitted from superior genetic engineering technologies that would have allowed them to improve their memories, life expectancy and disease resistance. The Darwinian evolution theory already faces a fair share of criticism, and Hawking seemingly hammers another nail into its coffin by stating that, “There is no time to wait for Darwinian evolution to make us more intelligent and better natured”. The creation of these “superhumans” would create significant struggles for existence and resources as there would be a monumental tussle over gene-editing technologies, and a portion of the human race would certainly get left behind. This new, ever-improving section of the human race would then colonise other planets, in case Earth does not last till then, paving the way for a self-sustaining group of ‘hyper-humans’. Hawking does not touch upon Earth’s other species, though, and if his ‘only the strong shall survive’ insight into our future seems highly contestable, what cannot be argued is that, with leaders like Donald Trump of the US and Scott Morrison of Australia, the human species might not even make it far enough to validate Hawking’s prediction—a new IPCC report has warned that mankind’s day of reckoning from climate change could be here sooner than expected and would be a lot worse than previously imagined.

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