If you have any questions about Terminators, Cylons or other human-robot hybrids, now is the time to ask them. For the next nine days, Stephen Hawking will be taking the Internet's queries about all things related to artificial intelligence (AI).
Hawking is answering questions via Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) series — a question-and-answer session that other popular scientists, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, have previously hosted. Reddit users can start submitting their questions for Hawking today (July 27) and can continue to do so until next Tuesday (Aug. 4) at 8 a.m. EDT.
The best questions (i.e., the ones "favorited" the most by other Reddit users) will find their way to Hawking, who has promised to answer as many queries as possible over the next few weeks.Typically, Reddit AMAs are much shorter ordeals that are conducted in real time and only last about an hour. But Hawking, who suffers from a motor neuron disease that left him paralyzed, will answer questions at his own pace. Reddit moderators will update the AMA page at an unspecified future date and will also be posting Hawking's answers on the "r/Science" subreddit. [8 Shocking Things We Learned From Stephen Hawking's Book]
The British physicist, best known for his work on black holes and gravitational singularities, has voiced concern about the advancement of intelligent machines, which he thinks may pose a serious threat to humans. In January, Hawking joined entrepreneur Elon Musk (founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors), as well as other prominent members of the science and technology communities, in signing an open letter that warned of the dangers of AI.
"The letter acknowledges that AI might one day help eradicate disease and poverty, but it also puts the onus on scientists at the forefront of this technology to keep the human factor front and center of their innovations," Hawking said today in a Reddit post about the January letter.
Hawking, Musk and other top scientists are presenting another open letter today at the International Joint Conference On Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina.The letter, published onlineby the Future of Life Institute, a volunteer organization focused on mitigating existential threats to humanity, urges the United Nations to support a ban on artificial-intelligence-based autonomous weapons, in order to prevent a global arms race.
Nearly 5,000 questions and comments have already been submitted via Reddit's open platform. Some of the most popular queries so far come from other scientists, including professors, graduate students and others who have studied AI. Many of those participating in the AMA cast doubt on Hawking's belief that AI is really a threat to humans. Others seem to agree with the physicist's claims that AI research could go awry and ask Hawking's opinion on how best to regulate AI technologies.
In addition to participating in the Reddit AMA, Hawking is also part of the "Make Tech Human" campaign sponsored by Nokia. The purpose of the campaign, which centers on a website hosted by Wired.com, is to get people talking about the effects of technology on people's lives. Every week, the site invites readers to weigh in on topics ranging from money inequality and mobile money services (i.e., savings accounts that can be managed via cellphones) to drones and the conservation of natural resources (i.e., monitoring deforestation via drone photography).
To ask Hawking a question or to follow the discussion about AI, visit the Reddit AMA.
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Elizabeth is a former Live Science associate editor and current director of audience development at the Chamber of Commerce. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from George Washington University. Elizabeth has traveled throughout the Americas, studying political systems and indigenous cultures and teaching English to students of all ages.