When Stephen Hawking talks, people listen.
In recent years, Hawking has issued some rather apocalyptic warnings about artificial intelligence. "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race," he told the BBC in 2014. So when the world's most famous scientist praised the opening of a new A.I. research center earlier this week, the Earth wobbled slightly as a million heads turned at once.
On Wednesday, Hawking spoke at the official opening of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI) at Cambridge University. While Hawking tempered the rather dire tone of his previous conjecture on A.I., he didn't mince his words, either.
"The rise of powerful A.I. will be either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity," Hawking said. "We do not yet know which."
Hawking's revised, cautiously neutral approach to A.I. is likely inspired by the mission of the new institution. Rather than work to develop the technology of artificial intelligence, CFI is dedicated to assessing the impact of A.I. on civilization. In fact, the research center hopes to proactively anticipate both the benefits and dangers of machine intelligence, and advocate for appropriate public policy.