The late Stephen Hawking was a serious voice in the controversy about how humanity can profit from artificial intelligence. Hawking made no secret of his fears that pondering machines could in the future take charge. He went so far as predicting that future developments in AI “could spell the tip of the human race.”

But Hawking’s relationship with AI was way more complex than this often-cited soundbite. The deep concerns he expressed were about superhuman AI, the purpose at which AI systems not only replicate human intelligence processes, but in addition keep expanding them, without our support – a stage that’s at best a long time away, if it ever happens in any respect. And yet Hawking’s very ability to speak those fears, and all his other ideas, got here to rely on basic AI technology.

Hawking’s conflicted relationship with AI

At the mental property and health law centers at DePaul University, my colleagues and I study the results of emerging technologies just like the ones Stephen Hawking frightened about. At its core, the concept of AI involves computational technology designed to make machines function with foresight that mimics, and ultimately surpasses, human pondering processes.

Hawking cautioned against an extreme type of AI, through which pondering machines would “take off” on their very own, modifying themselves and independently designing and constructing ever more capable systems. Humans, sure by the slow pace of biological evolution, can be tragically outwitted.

AI as a threat to humanity?

Well before it gets to the purpose of superhuman technology, AI will be put to terrible uses. Already, scholars and commentators worry that self-flying drones could also be precursors to lethal autonomous robots.

Today’s early stage AI raises several other ethical and practical problems, too. AI systems are largely based on opaque algorithms that make decisions even their very own designers could also be unable to clarify. The underlying mathematical models will be biased, and computational errors may occur. AI may progressively displace human skills and increase unemployment. And limited access to AI might increase global inequality.

The One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, launched by Stanford University in 2014, highlighted a few of these concerns. But thus far it has identified no evidence that AI will pose any “imminent threat” to humankind, as Hawking feared.

Still, Hawking’s views on AI are somewhat less alarmist and more nuanced than he often gets credit for. At their heart, they describe the necessity to grasp and regulate emerging technologies. He repeatedly called for more research on the advantages and dangers of AI. And he believed that even non-superhuman AI systems could help eradicate war, poverty and disease.

Hawking talks

This apparent contradiction – a fear of humanity being eventually overtaken by AI but optimism about its advantages within the meantime – could have come from his own life: Hawking had come to depend on AI to interact with the world.

Unable to talk since 1985, he used a series of various communication systems that helped him talk and write, culminating within the now-legendary computer operated by one muscle in his right cheek.

The first iteration of the pc program was exasperatingly slow and susceptible to errors. Very basic AI modified that. An open-source program made his word selection significantly faster. More importantly, it used artificial intelligence to investigate Hawking’s own words, after which used that information to assist him express recent ideas. By processing Hawking’s books, articles and lecture scripts, the system got so good that he didn’t even need to type the term people most associate with him, “the black hole.” When he chosen “the,” “black” would robotically be suggested to follow it, and “black” would prompt “hole” onto the screen.

Stephen Hawking discusses a predictive system that helped him communicate.

AI improves people’s health

Stephen Hawking’s experience with such a basic type of AI illustrates how non-superhuman AI can indeed change people’s lives for the higher. Speech prediction helped him deal with a devastating neurological disease. Other AI-based systems are already helping prevent, fight and lessen the burden of disease.

For instance, AI can analyze medical sensors and other health data to predict how likely a patient is to develop a severe blood infection. In studies it was substantially more accurate – and provided way more advance warning – than other methods.

Another group of researchers created an AI program to sift through electronic health records of 700,000 patients. The program, called “Deep Patient,” unearthed linkages that had not been apparent to doctors, identifying recent risk patterns for certain cancers, diabetes and psychiatric disorders.

AI has even powered a robotic surgery system that outperformed human surgeons in a procedure on pigs that’s very much like one kind of operation on human patients.

There’s a lot promise for AI to enhance people’s health that collecting medical data has turn into a cornerstone of each software development and public-health policy within the U.S. For example, the Obama White House launched a research effort in search of to collect DNA from not less than one million Americans. The data will likely be made available for AI systems to investigate when studying recent medical treatments, potentially improving each diagnoses and patients’ recovery.

All of those advantages from AI can be found straight away, and more are within the works. They do suggest that superhuman AI systems might be extremely powerful, but despite warnings from Hawking and fellow technology visionary Elon Musk that day may never come. In the meantime, as Hawking knew, there’s much to be gained. AI gave him a greater and more efficient voice than his body was in a position to provide, with which he called for each research and restraint.

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