World's smartest man has a message for all of you greedy, stupid people

The money quote in question from Stephen Hawking – arguably one of the smartest people on the planet – originally came from an interview with Larry King back in 2010. At the time he expressed concerns that the “greed and stupidity” of mankind could lead to our own self-destruction. But we all have the occasional ill tempered moment, so perhaps he’s thought better of it since then.

Nope. We’re still a bunch of morons who are doomed to extinction at our own hands. (Yahoo News)

“Six years ago, I was warning about pollution and overcrowding, they have gotten worse since then,” he replied. “The population has grown by half a billion since our last interview, with no end in sight. At this rate, it will be eleven billion by 2100. Air pollution has increased by 8 percent over the past five years. More than 80 percent of inhabitants of urban areas are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution.”

Hawking says the issue of pollution hasn’t been addressed and wonders if it’s too late to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.

It’s not just pollution and overpopulation which will do us in, however. Hawking is a frequent critic of something I worry about a fair bit myself. Artificial Intelligence is coming for you and it’s going to take more than just your job.

Another worry that plagues Hawking is the advance of artificial intelligence. He says governments are engaged in an AI arms race, putting funding into weapons with intelligent technology, rather than project that could directly benefit the human race, like improved medical screening.

“Artificial intelligence has the potential to evolve faster than the human race. Beneficially AI could co-exist with humans,” he says. “Once machines reach the critical stage of being able to evolve themselves, we cannot predict whether their goals will be the same as ours.”

Normally I’d engage in a bit of snark and poke fun at Hawking for his elitist views of humanity, but any cold, rational examination of the world will tell you that he’s not completely off base on any of this. The climate change question is still up in the air of course, but there’s no denying that the constantly increasing population of humans in the world continues to bring challenges which can’t be ignored. We now have to produce vastly more food per square mile to feed everyone than we did only a century ago and if it weren’t for our mastery of technology a lot of us would be starving. Fresh water is rapidly becoming not just a concern, but a crisis in many places. And yes, pollution of all sorts remains an issue. We’re a messy species at the best of times and seven billion of us can produce a lot of waste which has to be dealt with.

The AI question is another one which I feel can’t be ignored. It’s still the fodder for plenty of late night talk show jokes and I poke fun at it here myself. But I’ve read the concerns of many scientists over the future of artificial intelligence and we may well be rushing to let a genie out of the bottle which might not be as easily tamed as we seem to think. In case you missed it, an artificial intelligence fighter jet pilot program just shot down one of our Top Guns repeatedly in a battle simulator. Shall we turn over all of our weapons to it?

So all in all, Hawking is making some points which are worth considering. Of course, he could have done it a little more politely.