Artificial intelligence, boon or bane

Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking’s dire prediction that the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is an important preoccupation of modern science, may lead to the end of the human race has revived an old debate.

It is not the first warning from Hawking. Earlier this year, he had said that success in creating AI could be the biggest event in human history, but could also be the last. He has made his worry clearer now. Hawking’s case is that AI may one day take off on its own, redesign itself and replicate at a fast pace and supersede the human race, whose biological evolution cannot keep pace with it.

At the basic level, AI is a robotic machine which can think intelligently and creatively and act autonomously. Hawking’s fears are shared by many others. A few weeks ago, well-known US technologist Elon Musk said that AI might turn out to be a demon which could pose the biggest existential threat to the human race.

Science fiction and futuristic films have often projected scary scenarios of robots acquiring the power to challenge their creators. HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey and the cyborg assassin in the Terminator remain products of imagination, along with many other malevolent beings in the realm of art, which kept us on the edge.

They went away as nightmares but history has many times shown that today’s imagination is tomorrow’s reality. Fiction may be dismissed as unreliable and sensational, but when the world’s smartest scientist issues a warning, it needs to be taken seriously.

There are many who do not share the almost apocalyptic view of Hawking and Musk. Some say that robots will never be able to replace human beings, even if they may do everything more efficiently.

Yet, others have said that the birth of an intelligent robot cannot happen in the near future. But that does not deny the possibility that Hawking spoke of. Some have also talked of developing ethical robots which will follow rules and regulations.

Many would not know what such experiments would end up as. Hawking may, perhaps, be too alarmist. But it must be noted that he has not called for an end to all research and development of artificial intelligence. He has only called for caution and setting of a limit beyond which dabbling in AI may become dangerous. Mankind, now, has the power and freedom to decide whether it should destroy itself or not. They should remain with it.

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