I have to give Stephen Hawking credit when it comes to prophecies of doom. He’s on top of the story. He’s foreseen a future where Artificial Intelligence will run totally out of our control in a matter of seconds and probably decide to do away with us. And during the Web Summit in Lisbon this month he made the point clear yet again. Unless scientists working on developing AI don’t focus on ethics in their creations and safeguard against the worst case scenario, we’re all going to die.

Well… either that or it could turn out to be totally awesome. It could go either way, really. (Fox News)

“We cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it,” he said.

The Cambridge professor said while AI could be hugely beneficial for reducing poverty, disease and restoring the natural environment, it’s impossible to predict “what we might achieve when our own minds are amplified by AI”.

“AI could be the worst invention of the history of our civilization, that brings dangers like powerful autonomous weapons or new ways for the few to oppress the many.”

AI could develop a will of its own, a will that is in conflict with ours and which could destroy us. In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity.”

So… it’s either going to be the best thing to happen to humanity or… the worst thing to happen to humanity. Not for nothing, professor, but you’re really not being tremendously helpful here. I need to know whether I should be stocking up on canned goods, ammo and water purifiers or investing in leashes for my new herd of unicorns.

Some of his other concerns touch on products and services which are either already on the market or in development. Specifically, we should be keeping an eye on autonomous automobiles and sex robots.

The address set the scene for three days of talks between high-profile tech, business and government leaders grappling with ethical implications of everything from self-driving cars to sex dolls.

I’ve been trying to warn all of you about self-driving cars here for years now. Of course, nobody listens. I realize I make jokes about it, but it’s actually a very serious subject. Do you remember when hackers used the Internet of Things to wipe out all the DNS servers for hours on end a little over a year ago? That just disrupted your ability to binge watch your latest Netflix addiction. Now picture the rush hour afternoon when all of the cars suddenly accelerate to top speed and then make a sharp left turn. Sure, call me crazy if you like, but we seem to be establishing a pattern of advancing the technology in any number of fields before we fully understand it and can safeguard it.

That’s not such a problem when you’re talking about a coffeemaker or microwave oven. You already know that we’re putting cameras, microphones and wifi connections in everything but the kitchen sink. (And since we’re doing it to refrigerators the sink won’t be far behind, I assure you.) But cars? And there’s already talk of planes with no pilots.

We’ve got enough to worry about with hackers, and they’re able to disable vast networks when the conditions are right. Now just imagine tying in a vast Artificial Intelligence system that could decide, as Hawking said, to ignore us, sideline us, or conceivably destroy us. If you’re not even mildly alarmed over these developments I seriously don’t know what to tell you.

The followers of Ned Ludd were right. It all started with the invention of the stocking frame and it’s been downhill since then.