"If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed," he wrote. "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."
Some might almost see this as a hope for technological socialism. However, Hawking observed: "So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality."
Many have debated and will continue to debate whether technology really does drive inequality or whether people adjust to new circumstances and new ingenuity brings new markets and new jobs, ones previously unforeseen.
Some weren't impressed with Hawking's economics and its implied politics.
"Shorter Stephen Hawking: 'For hundreds of years, people who claimed that machines reduce jobs have looked silly. But I'll be different!'" tweeted venture capitalist Marc Andreesen.
Andreesen went on to suggest that "someone buy Stephen Hawking an Economics 101 textbook please."
Worries about increasing income inequality aren't without foundation. Instead of seeming like a temporary attribute of society, it feels like something that's becoming permanent. Whether technology is to blame for this isn't clear. There are many factors contributing to the division of income. Greedy rich people whose wealth doesn't trickle down terribly far might be one factor, some might say.