Stephen Hawking: machines could take over

If humans don’t watch out, computers will take over the Earth, says Stephen Hawking.

Since computers double their capacity every 18 months, there’s a real danger they will develop intelligence, the Cambridge University physicist told the German news magazine “Focus,” which published the interview in its Monday edition.

Hawking’s comments, are reminiscent of the scenario in Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” were published along with an introduction to his forthcoming book, “The Universe in a Nutshell.”

Hawkings said scientists could deliberately change genetic material, increasing the complexity of DNA and thus improving humans.

It will be a slow process, because it takes around 18 years, or a generation, to determine the effects of genetic manipulation, he said.

It is vital to develop ways of keeping biological systems superior to electronic ones, Hawking continued. Humans must develop an interface that allows the human brain to be directly connected to a computer, so that the artificial brain contributes to human intelligence, rather than opposing it.

Hawking, who has the neurological disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (known in the U.S. as Lou Gehrig’s disease) – uses a motorized wheelchair and communicates with the aid of a portable computer and speech synthesizer.

Meanwhile, researchers continue to attempt to create more artificially intelligent devices to make humans lives simpler. Japanese electronic manufacturers announced Monday a robot-like device that will make it possible to control home appliances such as VCRs remotely via the Internet using cell phones [See story – NTT unveils robot-like Internet remote control]. Can a day of reckoning with our household appliances rising up against us be not too far off?

Focus, in Munich, is at Stephen Hawking’s Web site is

With files from Kuriko Miyake of the IDG News Service.