Stephen Hawking on Reddit: What would you ask?

Stephen Hawking will host his first 'Ask Me Anything' session on Reddit on Monday. What's on his mind? Artificial intelligence.

Neil Hall/Reuters
Professor Stephen Hawking speaks at a media event to launch a global science initiative at The Royal Society in London in July.

Reddit’s done it again.

Say what you will about the company’s internal management issues, but its "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) board in the last year has managed to bring in an impressive array of celebrities ready to have their minds picked, from Julian Assange to Tim Berners-Lee to President Obama.

Now, it's offering us the chance to have a conversation with one of the world’s most esteemed physicists.

Starting Monday morning, Stephen Hawking for the first time will take questions from Reddit users on the "r/science" thread and respond within the next few weeks, according to CNET.

While Reddit AMA sessions are typically live, the format has been changed to allow Professor Hawking more time to answer questions. Hawking has been diagnosed with ALS disease and communicates only through a computer.

It’s an opportunity Reddit users have long asked for and wistfully deliberated, with at least one subreddit two years ago calling for an AMA with Professor Hawking.

"This AMA would break reddit. It would be awesome," wrote one user.

Among the questions posed at the time were:

  1. What would you consider to be the single most important discovery in the last 100 years? 500 years? 1000 years?
  2. Which of your own achievements are you personally most proud of?
  3. If you could travel anywhere in the known universe, where would you go?
  4. What are you looking forward to seeing in the next few decades?
  5. What have you currently been working on?

Now may prove an even more exciting time to ask these questions. Hawking this week made another historic announcement of a new $100 million mission to be carried out over the next ten years, saying that he would partner with billionaire tech investor Yuri Milner to look for signs of extraterrestrial life across the universe.

The physicist has also been publicly critical of the reach of artificial intelligence (AI), calling for more attention to ensure that technology such as autonomous weapons and drone aircraft don’t spiral out of human control.

Hawking’s approach to AI technology will be the primary focus of this upcoming Q&A session. He may also address interests outlined in an open letter by the Future of Life Institute that he co-signed earlier this year, such as the tension between privacy and cybersecurity, the legal extent of regulating lethal autonomous weapons, and what role computer scientists should play in terms of developing ethical AI software.

Hawking and thousands of other experts in the scientific community signed the letter earlier this year.

This AMA will offer a rare window into the mind of Stephen Hawking, a prolific enigma, according to The Guardian’s Rachel Cooke, who interviewed him in 2008.

"Mystery swirls about him like mist over a bottomless quarry," she wrote. "What is he thinking? He cannot be worrying at quantum physics 24 hours a day, but of his attitudes to other things – of what lies in his heart – we know very little."

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