Stephen Hawking is considered a modern-day genius. The physicist, cosmologist, college professor and author overcame many obstacles in his life to amass great success. Among his achievements includes winning the Albert Einstein Award in 1978 and the Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012- and he’s even the subject of his own movie, The Theory of Everything.
Despite all his brilliance- and in the words of his wife, Jane- Stephen Hawking is not God. That’s good to know because he’s offered many controversial opinions that are open to criticism, and for now I’ll focus on one of two recent articles. In the first article an author from the Huffington Post claims that Stephen Hawking says we should really be scared of Capitalism- not robots.
To put that headline in context, Hawking has argued that artificial intelligence is likely to be the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity; he reasons that there’s a distinct possibility that AI could develop survival instincts, and if that happens, the existence of the human race could be threatened. “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” he once said.
There are plenty of examples from Hollywood to support this notion. There’s HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Skynet from Terminator, both of which are sentient computers intent on killing humans in order to protect themselves. Or the Matrix that needs to grow and sustain humans in order to power itself. Then we find the more peaceful versions, like the robot boy named David from the movie A.I, programmed to love; the justice-seeking Robocop, designed to serve and protect; and Data, the Chief Operating Officer from Star Trek.
This leads me back to Hawking, who suggests that it’s not the machines that will bring about an economic collapse- but greedy humans! A man who’s not afraid to play on our fears, Hawking warns that rich owners with machines replacing human workers will accumulate and hoard their wealth and refuse to share it, creating vast economic inequality.
Of course, in order to prevent this, he says it will depend on how things are distributed and shared. If the greedy owners prevent the government from redistributing their wealth, then most people will end up miserable and poor.
So here we have a great scientific mind venturing into the public realm of politics and providing his opinion, and it’s being gobbled up by media sources and distributed to many like-minded people who hate Capitalism. Fine. He was asked a question by an audience member, and he provided an honest answer, but I find it to be an alarmist fear that doesn’t need to be stoked.
Capitalism has done more good for more people than any other economic system. The United States and its citizens have prospered as a result of a free market driven by supply and demand, and we’ve helped reduce poverty around the world. The freedom to choose how to make and spend money in a capitalistic society allows us to raise people out of poverty than otherwise. And while no form of government is perfect, Capitalism allows people the best opportunity to succeed.
Of course not every member of society is willing to take advantage of the opportunities they have. But the opportunity is there nonetheless. We’ve all heard countless stories of unlikely individuals rising out of poverty to achieve great success, regardless of their circumstances. There’s little to prevent a determined person from overcoming obstacles, and Hawking is a perfect example.
Hawking has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and has been in a wheelchair since the late 1960’s, yet his disability hasn’t prevented him from reaching stardom, success and accumulating great wealth. This man has an estimated net worth of $20 million, so I find it strange that someone so wealthy would hoard so much wealth, yet call for the redistribution of other people’s property. His contribution to physics has led the way to the technology and machines he uses on a regular basis, yet he believes such technology will lead to others accumulating and hoarding their wealth.
I guess it’s partly the hypocrisy that bothers me, but it’s much more than that. It’s also the class envy his rhetoric creates. Rather than inspiring others to rise above their means, it validates a sense of victimhood in society and encourages people to take the view that they’re entitled to what other people have without having to do the work, pay the price, take chances, or put forth the effort.
Granted, there are some people who are more fortunate than others, but neither does that justify wealth redistribution. Life isn’t fair, and we all have to learn how to deal with that reality constructively.
Instead of creating a society full of uninspired victims, I suggest that the government should inspire and encourage its citizens to take advantage of a broad range of educational opportunities offered them. And to that end, the government should encourage a healthy and coherent family unit that can maintain itself nationwide. It should protect our religious and personal freedoms and promote justice and national security. It should respect life and liberty and promote morality. It should instill a sense of national pride- a love for God and country. It needs to honor concepts like self-reliance, personal responsibility, good judgment and independence, as well as reward generosity (in contrast to the self-centered “me first” society we see now). We need a strong private sector and vibrant church that is able to help the poor and needy. If we do these things, then there will be no need for wealth redistribution, vast government programs or entitlements because the people will be equipped to overcome the obstacles themselves. That’s what we want and desperately need. We should strive for a society that can sustain itself with little government interference. The government needs to protect our personal property, rather than confiscate it like a thief to do with it as it pleases.
In other words, if we have all the necessary checks and balances, then we don’t need a bloated, out-of-control, over-reaching government to legislate morality and perform social experiments. We’ll have a healthy society where citizens are incentivized to elevate themselves, contribute and help others, rather than a society where everyone is pushed to the bottom.
I don’t see Hawkins distributing his own wealth so that others can enjoy a life of luxury, so it’s rather disappointing to hear him hint that the government should confiscate all our wealth and redistribute it so that he doesn’t have to be personally responsible. What’s stopping him from setting an example?
Of course I’m no better. I haven’t sold all that I own and given it to the poor either. But neither am I advocating others do what I haven’t done myself.
I suspect there will always be jobs and work to do in America- or wherever else Capitalism is practiced. Instead of technology reducing the number of jobs in the workforce, it creates new jobs, and I would expect that trend to continue.
I don’t know if we’ll ever have to fear artificial intelligence, but, as a Christian, I believe it’s a personal responsibility to help the poor and needy. It’s not the purpose of government to absolve us of that responsibility.