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A female robot was granted citizenship of Saudi Arabia last week, days before physicist Stephen Hawking warned about the possibility of robots replacing humans. (Photo: @citizentvkenya/Twitter)

Artificial Intelligence, Fears Stephen Hawking, 'May Replace Humans Altogether'

As technologists dismiss regulation concerns, physicist warns, "This will be a new form of life that outperforms humans."

Julia Conley, staff writer

Warning that the development of robots could result in a "new form" of life that outperforms humans, Stephen Hawking expressed grave concerns about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), in an interview this week.

"I fear that AI may replace humans altogether," said the physicist to Wired magazine.

He likened the potential for harmful developments in robotics to humans' ability to create computer viruses that spread across systems. "Someone will design AI that improves and replicates itself," he predicted. "This will be a new form of life that outperforms humans."

"I believe we have reached the point of no return. Our earth is becoming too small for us, global population is increasing at an alarming rate and we are in danger of self-destructing."—Stephen Hawking

Hawking's warning comes days after a female robot was granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia's government. Google's former CEO, Eric Schmidt, also warned this week that China could rapidly expand its AI development in the coming decade, citing a policy document outlining the country's goal to become the global leader in the field by 2030.

Speaking at a tech summit, Schmidt argued that development of more AI should be the United States' priority, calling concerns over regulation "premature"—a position Hawking and Tesla founder Elon Musk have pushed against.

In 2015, the two scientists penned an open letter warning against developing AI for military purposes—even if other countries do so. "Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea," they wrote, "and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control."

In this week's interview, Hawking also argued that young people should be urged to work in the sciences and initiate a new push for space exploration—as  Earth could become uninhabitable in the coming century, a fear he expressed earlier this year—partially due to the refusal of leaders like President Donald Trump to take steps to combat climate change.

"I believe we have reached the point of no return," Hawking said. "Our earth is becoming too small for us, global population is increasing at an alarming rate and we are in danger of self-destructing."

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