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Hawking: Artificial Intelligence a Threat to Humans

By Peter Clarke, JD | Last updated on

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

Homo Sapiens are the most successful human species, so far. Homo Sapiens have thrived in the wake of the disappearance of prior human species like Neanderthals (although we do have some trace Neanderthal DNA from prior inter-breeding). And Homo Sapiens, of course, have greatly surpassed the abilities of other ape species. Need an example? Just take a look at all the recent tech trends for law firms of the future.

But are Homo Sapiens threatened to be left in the dust by another form of being here on Planet Earth? The answer is "yes," according to none other than Stephen Hawking. And what's more, Hawking says that we are threatened by our own creation -- Artificial Intelligence (AI).

In his recent Reddit AMA, as reported by Tech Insider, Hawking has explained that Artificial Intelligence ultimately will become smarter than and a threat to Homo Sapiens, the current human race.

Hawking began by pointing out that it is "clearly possible for something to acquire higher intelligence than its ancestors: we evolved to be smarter than our ape-like ancestors, and Einstein was smarter than his parents."

He then posed the potential for Artificial Intelligence to become "better than humans at AI design, so that it can recursively improve itself without human help." And, Hawking warned, "if this happens, we may face an intelligence explosion that ultimately results in machines whose intelligence exceeds ours by more than ours exceed that of snails."

The problem is that super intelligent machines could design even smarter and better machines, and this amazing intelligence explosion would leave Homo Sapiens far behind and eventually irrelevant. Homo Sapiens might not have any control over machines that are of a much greater intelligence.

And if the super machines concluded as part of their development that humans were worthless or in the way, perhaps they could be the architects of our demise.

Unlike Ray Kurzweil's preditions of future god-like humans, Hawking's view is a gloomy forecast for the future. Is the genie already out of the bottle in terms of the evolutionary commencement of threatening super computers? Or, is the opposite true -- that computers developed by Homo Sapiens will continue to support and serve us? What do you think?

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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