Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey and its murderous computer HAL remind many people of the fears of how artificial intelligence could pose a threat to human life and indeed efforts have long since been underway to create “thinking machines.” But that technology could spell doom for the human race according to Britain’s preeminent scientific Professor Stephen Hawking. Well known as an enthusiastic early adopter of all kinds of communication technologies, Hawking was recently quoted by the BBC as saying “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

Hawking, who suffers from the motor neurone disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), issued the warning in response to a question about recent upgrades to a system, developed by Intel, which Hawking employs allowing him to speak. The software learns how Hawking thinks and suggests words he might want to use next.

That “machine learning” technology can also be found in newer smartphone keyboard apps but is still considered “primitive” by futuristic standards – which Hawking fears could match or surpass humans at some point in the future: “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” Hawking said, adding “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Elon Musk, chief executive of rocket-maker Space X, also fears the very artificial intelligence he’s created and has warned that AI is “our biggest existential threat”.

Rollo Carpenter, creator of Cleverbot, is more optimistic and thinks we are a long way from having the computer power or algorithms needed to realize full AI which Hawking is warning of but says it should be available within the next few decades.

Carpenter’s Cleverbot software learns from past conversations and is quite capable of fooling a high percentage of people into believing they’re talking to a human.

“I believe we will remain in charge of the technology for a decently long time and the potential of it to solve many of the world problems will be realized. We cannot quite know what will happen if a machine exceeds our own intelligence, so we can’t know if we’ll be infinitely helped by it, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it,”  said Carpenter.

Hawking also had some words of wisdom concerning the internet, warning that the net has become a command center for terrorists and insists more should be done by internet companies to end the use of technology to further terror agendas.

There are also technologies on the distant horizon which see mankind and machines working in unison, albeit toward an end which many currently find disturbing. Not mentioned in the BBC report, the 2045 Initiativea network of researchers in the field of life extension, neural interfaces, robotics and artificial organs and systems – promises “to create technologies enabling the transfer of an individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality.  In short, 2045 is working toward installing a person’s brain, along with it’s thoughts, memories and personality traits, into a robotic “avatar” interface which, if successful, could keep a human brain functioning inside a robotic skeletal frame indefinitely.