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Europe’s Chance to Lead on Robotics and AI

Artificial intelligence could be either the best or the worst thing that ever happened to mankind. To prepare for the profound changes to lives and livelihoods that lie ahead, the European Union should start establishing rules to protect all Europeans – and give the rest of the world a model to follow.

BRUSSELS – At least since Mary Shelley created Victor Frankenstein and his iconic monster in 1818, humans have had a morbid fascination with man-made beings that could threaten our existence. From the American television adaptation of “Westworld,” which depicts an amusement park populated by androids, to the “Terminator” films, in which super-intelligent machines aim to destroy mankind, we often indulge the paranoid fantasy that our own technological creations might turn on us.

In Homo Deus, Hebrew University’s Yuval Noah Harari argues that existing technological advances have already put mankind on a path toward its own demise. Developments in artificial intelligence (AI), algorithms that make better decisions than humans, and genetic engineering all imply that most human beings will be superfluous in the not-too-distant future.

At the Web Summit conference in Lisbon last month, the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking addressed the threats as well as the opportunities that lie ahead. “Success in creating effective AI,” Hawking said, “could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst.” The problem, he added, is that, “We just don’t know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it.”

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