Earlier this week, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking out-snarked the king of snark, talk show host John Oliver.
Hawking was Oliver’s first guest for his “Great Minds: People Who Think Good” series on his show, “Last Week Tonight.” It turns out Hawking isn’t just brilliant, he’s pretty funny too.
If you are not familiar with Hawking’s legacy, Oliver sums it up well: “His breakthrough work on black holes and string theory is considered hugely important by anyone who pretends to understand it.”
The two began with pleasantries followed by a short review of Hawking’s stand on artificial intelligence, which he fears could be dangerous if it gets too advanced — a sentiment recently echoed by Elon Musk. “It could design improvements to itself and outsmart us all,” Hawking said.
“Why should I not be excited about fighting a robot?” Oliver asked.
“You would lose,” Hawking said.
“What could a robot do that I couldn’t fight back by just unplugging him?” Oliver asked.
Hawking replied with a fictional story: “Scientists built an intelligent computer. The first question they asked it was, ‘Is there a God?’ The computer replied, ‘There is now.’ And a bolt of lightening struck the plug, so it couldn’t be turned off.”
To which Oliver replied:
Oliver continued to heckle Hawking, who has a form of Lou Gehrig’s disease and has communicated through a computer since 1985. “Who is talking to me right now?” Oliver asked. “Is it you or is it the sentient computer pretending to talk on your behalf?”
“It’s me,” Hawking said.
“But how do I know, professor?” Oliver asked. “If computers had become sentient, what better way to convince people that they hadn’t than by co-opting the voice of the most intelligent man on the planet?”
To which Hawking replied:
“Yeah, but who is saying that, Stephen, you or the machine?” Oliver asked.
Hawking is known for his work on parallel universes. Could that mean there was a universe where Oliver was smarter than Hawking, the former wanted to know?
“Yes,” Hawking replied…
Watch the full interview below.
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