Stephen Hawking to answer your questions via his first Reddit forum

In his first Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) forum, the renowned physicist plans to discuss his concerns that artificial intelligence could one day outsmart mankind if we're not careful.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read
Famed physicist Stephen Hawking will address the issue of artificial intelligence and other topics at his first Reddit AMA. BBC/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Those of you who've ever wanted to ask Stephen Hawking a question will have your chance courtesy of Reddit.

The famous physicist will make his debut on Reddit's AMA (Ask Me Anything) forum where users pose questions for people to answer. But the format for Hawking will differ from the usual pattern.

Typically, a Reddit AMA is live as people throw questions at the subject, and the person tries to keep up with the barrage by responding as best as possible. But for Hawking's AMA, you'll present the questions ahead of time, and he'll answer them over the following weeks.

Specifically, you can submit your questions starting Monday July 27 at 8am ET through Tuesday, August 4, at the New Reddit Journal of Science, and Hawking will respond over the next few weeks. Hawking, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, uses a computer to communicate. So the delayed format will allow him the time necessary to answer questions.

The topic uppermost on Hawking's mind and the one he wants to discuss is artificial intelligence, specifically how mankind needs to ensure that it doesn't get out of hand. The subject of AI has been one of key concern to the physicist. In January 2015, Hawking and other experts in the worlds of science and technology signed an open letter issued by the Future of Life Institute. The letter's accompanying documentation noted the benefits but also warned of the potential pitfalls of artificial intelligence if we allow it to expand beyond our control.

The document posed some of the following legal and ethical questions concerning self-driving cars, drone aircraft, autonomous weapons and other "intelligent" technologies currently being used or tested:

  • Can lethal autonomous weapons be made to comply with humanitarian law?
  • How should the ability of AI systems to interpret the data obtained from surveillance cameras, phone lines, emails, etc., interact with the right to privacy?
  • How will privacy risks interact with cybersecurity and cyberwarfare?
  • What role should computer scientists play in the law and ethics of AI development and use?

And these are questions we have to face now and not at some future date, so Hawking will likely have much to say on the subject during his AMA.

"One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand," Hawking said in an article he co-wrote in May for The Independent. "Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all."

Hawking's AMA is part of the #maketechhuman initiative spearheaded by Nokia and Wired magazine and launched in March with an AMA hosted by World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

"The #maketechhuman debate that Nokia has enabled is all about ensuring that technology serves humanity, in the right way," Nokia chief marketing officer Barry French said in a press release. "I cannot imagine a better person to add value to this discussion than Professor Hawking. Nokia is honored, and I am personally honored, by the fact that he will join us on his first ever Reddit Ask Me Anything conversation."