Stephen Hawking set to tackle dangerous AI & aliens in Reddit AMA

Professor Stephen Hawking. © Neil Hall
Professor Stephen Hawking is hosting an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit, and it promises to be out of this world. Based on the questions posed so far, the famed physicist will answer user questions on artificial intelligence, alien life and much more.

Usually, Reddit “Ask Me Anything” features, commonly referred to as AMAs, take place within the span of a couple hours. Members submit questions and the guests – individuals ranging from Bill Gates to President Barack Obama – answer as many as they can in real time.

Hawking’s AMA is going to be a little different, though, considering he is paralyzed as a result of a motor neuron disease. Instead, Hawking has asked Reddit users to post their questions in advance, and he will try to answer as many as he can on his own time over the next few weeks.

Considering that Hawking recently signed onto a letter warning of the dangers of autonomous weaponry employing advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI), numerous questions about the perils of such technology have already been submitted. And while the stated topic of the AMA is “making the future of technology more human,” there are already numerous questions posed on a variety of subjects.

One of the most popular questions so far is about how to regulate the use of AI on an international level.

“What suggestions would you have for the global community when it comes to building an international consensus on the ethical use of AI tools and do we need a new UN agency similar to the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure the right practices are being implemented for the development and implementation of ethical AI tools?” asked the Redditer j_mcm.

READ MORE: ‘Kalashnikovs of tomorrow’: Hawking, Musk, Wozniak warn of global AI arms race

Another user, The_Caring_Banker, asked Hawking, “What is it you think we should do as humans to prevent machines turning against us?”

The prospect of potentially dangerous AI cropped up recently, when Hawking joined Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and roughly 1,000 other scientists and thinkers in a letter warning of a destructive global AI arms race.

“Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of [autonomous] systems is — practically if not legally — feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms,” the letter reads.

The letter stated that improving AI should be of benefit to humanity – and not be focused on advancing military capabilities.

“Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control,” the letter concluded.

Meanwhile, some asked Hawking if he believes a machine could be “truly conscious,” while PhascinatingPhysics wondered if humans “will advance to a point where we will be unable to make any more advances in science/technology/knowledge simply because the time required to learn what we already know exceeds our lifetime?”

Beyond the scope of AI, the other topic on the minds of Redditers is space. Hawking recently made headlines around the world by backing a $100 million project called Breakthrough Listen that is focused on searching for alien life. Naturally, the internet is curious.

One question asked what Hawking would advise if humans were to find aliens that are much less advanced.

“If we discovered a civilization in the universe less advanced than us, would you reveal to them the secrets of the cosmos or let them discover it for themselves?” asked mudblood69.

Another questioned the entire obsession with aliens, asking if humans weren’t wasting their time on the question.

“Why does everyone think there would be life on another planet, when life itself is beyond complicated and we still can’t understand its existence and/or its origin?” asked Zuceleus.

READ MORE: NASA promises 'definitive evidence' of alien life by 2025

During the recent Breakthrough announcement, Hawking said, “there is no bigger question” than whether or not aliens are real. “We are intelligent, we are alive, we must know,” he said.

Still, one user recalled that Hawking had previously expressed serious concerns over contacting extraterrestrial life.

“In your recent support behind a $100 million initiative for an extensive search for proof of extraterrestrial life, do you still stand by your previous claim that communicating with intelligent alien lifeforms could be ‘too risky?’ And that a visit by extraterrestrials to Earth would be like Christopher Columbus arriving in the Americas, ‘which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans?’” asked user Crack-a-lacking.

Hawking has already cautioned that the search for alien life could be potentially dangerous, since it’s possible that any extraterrestrial life could seek to exploit humanity.

READ MORE: Aliens ahoy! Massive mothership ‘the size of Idaho’ caught in NASA images, say ufologists

“We don’t know much about aliens, but we know about humans. If you look at history, contact between humans and less intelligent organisms have often been disastrous from their point of view, and encounters between civilizations with advanced versus primitive technologies have gone badly for the less advanced,” he said at the Breakthrough announcement. “A civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead of us. If so, they will be vastly more powerful, and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”

But it wasn’t all suspicious aliens and killer AI at Reddit. Some people asked much simpler questions, such as what Hawking’s favorite song and movie were. And, this being the internet, of course animals were involved too.

“Do you like cats?” asked RoyAbs. “I’ve just got a kitten and they’re awesome. Keen to hear your take on cats.”