Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who died in March, returned from the grave on Tuesday in the form of a posthumously published book to warn humanity of the imminent cyborg apocalypse. Hawking explains in his latest and final work, Brief Answers to the Big Questions:
While primitive forms of artificial intelligence developed so far have proved very useful, I fear the consequences of creating something that can match or surpass humans. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superceded.
The famously atheistic professor also discourages the temptation of humans to play God. Gene-editing technology would ultimately create a race of superhumans, posing an ethical and political hell for society. “Once such superhumans appear,” Hawking predicts, “there are going to be significant problems with the unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete. Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving themselves at an ever-increasing rate.”
Hawking’s doomsday scenario isn’t far-fetched. Current gene-editing tools such as CRISPR already offer scientists the ability to correct disease-causing segments of our DNA code. As such technology advances, why should humans refrain from using the tool to enhance the genetic code rather than merely to correct deformations?
As traditional religious belief continues to plummet in the United States and Europe, our impoverished moral vocabulary seems ill-equipped to grapple with such serious bioethical concerns. Meanwhile, techno-utopians predict humans will have the ability to “not die” as early as 2050. But if the future looks anything like the dystopic wasteland Stephen Hawking foresees, who on earth would want to live forever?