Reddit AMA reveals Stephen Hawking's most 'intriguing mystery'

On artificial intelligence, 'it's likely to be either the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity, so there's huge value in getting it right.'
By Tomas Monzon and Scott Smith  |  Oct. 8, 2015 at 11:52 AM
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SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- Dr. Stephen Hawking is an incredibly smart man who has made profound advances in science, but he's also a pretty funny guy who finds a certain conspicuous American TV sitcom hilarious and remains perplexed by one profound mystery.

The theoretical physicist shared these tidbits -- and thoughts on science -- for a Reddit AMA "Ask Me Anything" session posted Thursday.

Reddit, WIRED and Nokia put together the AMA thread on July 27, soliciting questions that he would choose and answer.

Hawking suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a debilitating disease that has almost completely paralyzed him. He speaks using a computerized voice synthesized from text -- words chosen about 15 per minute from a computer screen that scrolls rapidly through phrases. His AMA replies took weeks to compose in his free time.

Hawking addressed several questions about his recent dire warnings on artificial intelligence, cautioning that it's an issue not of malice by AI, but "competence."

"A superintelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren't aligned with ours, we're in trouble," Hawking told an unidentified teacher asking what she should teach her students about AI. "You're probably not an evil ant-hater who steps on ants out of malice, but if you're in charge of a hydroelectric green energy project and there's an anthill in the region to be flooded, too bad for the ants. Let's not place humanity in the position of those ants."

Answering an unidentified student's question about whether his warnings on AI concerned current work or something in the distant future, Hawking said: "The latter. There's no consensus among AI researchers about how long it will take to build human-level AI and beyond, so please don't trust anyone who claims to know for sure that it will happen in your lifetime or that it won't happen in your lifetime.

"When it eventually does occur, it's likely to be either the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity, so there's huge value in getting it right."

Taking a break from all the science, Hawking shared that his favorite song is "Have I Told You Lately" by Rod Stewart, his favorite movie is Francois Truffaut's 1962 film "Jules et Jim" and the last hilarious thing he saw online was "The Big Bang Theory." Hawking is a frequent topic of nerdy discussion on the show.

Asked "what is the one mystery that you find most intriguing," Hawking replied: "My (personal assistant) reminds me that although I have a PhD in physics women should remain a mystery."

He responded to just nine questions, taking time to answer one from a Canadian poster who said he'd seen Hawking in 1995 as a boy at a video rental store in Cambridge, England, where Hawking lives. The poster asked if Hawking remembered watching "Wayne's World 2" on a store monitor while parked for about 5 minutes next to two kids. He answered simply, "No."

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