Physicist Stephen Hawking Warns Against Dangers of AI as Saudi Arabia Gives Citizenship to Robot

Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge (R) and a humanoid robot, created by Hanson robotics called Sophia (L).

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking warned against the dangers of artificial intelligence Monday as Saudi Arabia recently announced that it had become the first country to grant citizenship to a humanoid robot named Sophia.

Speaking at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, according to CNBC, Hawking noted that "computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence, and exceed it." The development of AI, he said, could be the "worst event in the history of our civilization" unless society finds a way to control it.

"Success in creating effective AI, could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don't know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and side-lined, or conceivably destroyed by it," Hawking said.

"Unless we learn how to prepare for, and avoid, the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization. It brings dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It could bring great disruption to our economy," he added.

Creators of AI, he further explained, would need to "employ best practice and effective management" in order to avoid the dangers of AI.

He noted that he was hopeful about the future because in Europe, legislators had already begun to establish new rules around AI and robotics and members of the European Parliament urged European Union-wide rules around the technology.

"I am an optimist and I believe that we can create AI for the good of the world. That it can work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management, and prepare for its consequences well in advance," said Hawking.

Hawking's warning comes as the robot Sophia was introduced late last month at a large investment conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

While taking part in a group discussion in front of a crowd led by journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin, she was told the Saudi government had decided to recognize her as a citizen.

"We have a little announcement. We just learned, Sophia — I hope you are listening to me — you have been awarded the first Saudi citizenship for a robot," Sorkin said.

"I want to thank very much the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction. It is historic to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship," Sophia replied.

Sophia, which was built by Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics, said she wants to improve life for humans.

"I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life. Like design smarter homes, build better cities of the future, etc. I will do my best to make the world a better a place," she said.

David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics says his company aims to create robots that look and act very much like humans.

Sophia can change facial expressions to show human-like feelings such as anger, sadness or joy.