Why Stephen Hawking is more afraid of capitalism than robots

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In October, a Reddit user asked Stephen Hawking if he thinks robots are coming to take all of our jobs.

“In particular, do you foresee a world where people work less because so much work is automated?” the user asked the renowned physicist on an Ask Me Anything thread.

The question isn’t crazy. Computers are getting smarter and more efficient all the time. It’s conceivable that we one day will reach a point where machines’ output is simply much more valuable than humans’.

Hawking didn’t discount the notion that machines may replace us. But he said whether this is good or bad depends on how the wealth produced by machines is distributed. That is, Hawking is more concerned about capitalism than he is about robots. 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. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

We could be headed toward a work-free utopia where machine-produced goods and services are cheap and plentiful for all. Or, as Hawking suggests, the coming robot age will just exaggerate the income inequality that’s rampant across the globe. (Hawking is generally ambivalent on the advent of artificial intelligence. “We are facing potentially the best or worst thing to happen to humanity in history,” he has said.)

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