Stephen Hawking has been outspoken in recent years about the catastrophic dangers humanity faces in the 21st century. He said we should be cautious in attempting to contact aliens, warning that advanced extraterrestrial life may not be friendly toward us and could destroy the human race. He also stated we should be cautious in creating strong artificial intelligence. The renowned physicist joined Tesla’s Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and Google executive Demis Hassabis in signing a letter that warned against a military artificial intelligence arms race.
Hawking even issued a warning to the scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) about the dangers of the Higgs Boson “God Particle,” claiming it could initiate “catastrophic vacuum decay” — a quantum bubble that expands at the speed of light and wipes out the universe.
Recently, Hawking addressed the threat he says may be more far more dangerous to the future of human civilization than robots, aliens, or quantum particles: capitalist greed. During a Reddit AMA, he argued that the future is wrought with the peril of rampant inequality expedited by an automated machine-based global economic system.
“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed.” Hawking continued, “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”
Predictably, a dramatic response thread followed. Many commenters agreed with Hawking and denounced the globalist oligarchy that is currently consolidating wealth at an unprecedented rate. Responses ranged from calls for a “bloody revolution” to references to the recent films Elysium, Wall-E, and Zeitgeist 2: Addendum. One commenter invoked the anarcho-syndicalist political views of linguist Noam Chomsky.
The main theme of the discussion centered around the automation of labor and how that would affect the human workforce and the global economy. Hawking seems to believe that our current trajectory will make such automation a death knell for the working classes, with the bourgeoisie machine owners exerting total economic control over human civilization.
One commenter strongly disagreed with Hawking, referencing recent Journal of Economic Perspective articles and claiming “technology has never, will never, and simply cannot result in structural unemployment.”
The comment thread is a treasure trove of wide-ranging ideas that include:
~The efficacy, or lack thereof, of voting
~A “universal basic income”
~Techno-socialism, with “an open source decentralized consensus algorithm for the masses”
~A post-scarcity society run by strong artificial intelligence