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Stephen Hawking Isn't Sure Whether Artificial Intelligence Will End Poverty or Kill Us All

Stephen Hawking attends "Interstellar Live" at Royal Albert Hall on March 30, 2015 in London, England. Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

“Success in creating effective AI, could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don’t know.”

Those confidence-inspiring words are from a speech Stephen Hawking made at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon on Monday. It’s not the first time Hawking has warned about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence. Just last week he told Wired he thought AI would eventually replace humans entirely, saying that once it develops to the point that it can improve and replicate itself, it will supersede humanity.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Hawking said AI could also eradicate disease, end poverty, and reverse damage done to the planet. He said he was optimistic about the potential for harmonious, beneficial human-AI relationships—as long as we watch our backs. If we fail to adequately prepare for the potential pitfalls of AI, we may face “powerful autonomous weapons,” “new ways for the few to oppress the many,” or, mother of all ills, economic disruption.

That is, if we don’t burn up first.

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