Hawking misquoted on computers taking over

From: Amara D. Angelica (amara@kurzweilai.net)
Date: Fri Sep 14 2001 - 01:18:00 MDT


KurzweilAI.net recently posted a news item regarding Stephen Hawkings'
comments on preventing computers from taking over, based on an interview
originally published in the German magazine Focus. KurzweilAI.net has since
learned that his comments were inaccurately reported in the media.

To ensure accuracy, we asked Prof. Hawking to provide his original comments.
They were:

"With genetic engineering, we will be able to increase the complexity of our
DNA, and improve the human race. But it will be a slow process, because one
will have to wait about 18 years, to see the effect of changes to the
genetic code. By contrast, computers double their speed and memories every
18 months. There is a real danger that computers will develop intelligence,
and take over. We urgently need to develop direct connections to the brain,
so that computers can add to human intelligence, rather than be in

His comments were in response to this question from Focus magazine:

"You mention a new species, which shall follow mankind one day. What do you
think is more probable: Robot beings, endowed with a superior artificial
intelligence, or by means of genetic engineering, an artificially evolved
human super race with superior cognitive and other brain functions?" (Typos

Several newspapers and news services reported that Stephen Hawking said
"humans should change their DNA through genetic modification to keep ahead
of advances in computer technology and stop intelligent machines from
'taking over the world.'"

Something was evidently lost in the English-to-German-to-English
translation. Hawking in fact recommended direct connections to the brain to
avert computers taking over, with genetic engineering as a longer-term

"This is more in line with my thinking than what was reported," said Ray
Kurzweil, who had noted on KurzweilAI.net that "Hawking’s recommendation to
do genetic engineering on humans in order to keep pace with AI is
unrealistic. He appears to be talking about genetic engineering through the
birth cycle, which would be absurdly slow. By the time the first genetically
engineered generation grows up, the era of beyond-human-level machines will
be upon us."

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