10 Things We Learned From Stephen Hawking’s AMA

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Getty

Stephen Hawking was a busy guy. In the span of a few months, he launched a $100 million initiative to hunt for alien life, fought to impose a ban on AI weapons, and shared the secret to escaping a black hole. In the middle of all that, he somehow managed to find time to conduct his first-ever Reddit AMA in 2015.

Unlike traditional AMAs, Hawking fans had to wait two months for his responses as the world-famous physicist answered questions at his own pace. Here's what they learned about Hawking’s stance on artificial intelligence, pop culture, the universe’s greatest mystery, and more.

1. HE THOUGHT AI WAS RISKY, NOT EVIL.

When one participant brought up his gripes with what he calls “The Terminator Conversation,” or the media-perpetuated belief that artificial intelligence may one day become evil, Hawking agreed that that’s not necessarily what we should be looking out for. "The real risk with AI isn’t malice, but competence,” he said. “You’re probably not an evil ant-hater who steps on ants out of malice, but if you’re in charge of a hydroelectric green energy project and there’s an anthill in the region to be flooded, too bad for the ants. Let’s not place humanity in the position of those ants.” Sounds like a good plan.

2. HE WAS A ROD STEWART FAN.

When asked about his favorite song, Hawking responded that it's the Rod Stewart love ballad "Have I Told You Lately."

3. HE LIKED THE BIG BANG THEORY.

This is the answer he gave when asked about the last thing he saw online that he found hilarious.

4. HE BELIEVED AI COULD SURPASS HUMAN INTELLIGENCE.

In response to one Redditor’s point that some people may think it impossible for a creature (or machine) to surpass the intelligence of its creator, Hawking begged to differ. “We evolved to be smarter than our ape-like ancestors and Einstein was smarter than his parents,” he said, “If [AI becomes better than humans at AI design], we may face an intelligence explosion that ultimately results in machines whose intelligence exceeds ours by more than ours exceeds that of snails.” Somehow, this statement feels even more dismal than the ant comparison.

5. WOMEN WERE THE MYSTERY HE FOUND MOST INTRIGUING.

Even though he dedicated his life to exploring the mysteries of the universe, Hawking said his personal assistant reminded him that women should remain a mystery.

6. AUTOMATION COULD IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF LIFE, OR NOT SO MUCH.

When someone brought up the looming possibility of technological unemployment due to increased automation, Hawking posited this could go one of two ways: “If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed,” he explained. "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 distribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option."

7. HIS FAVORITE FILM WAS JULES AND JIM.

On a lighter note, Hawking was apparently a fan of French New Wave cinema.

8. HE DIDN’T KNOW WHEN TO EXPECT HUMAN-LEVEL AI.

If you're wondering when to expect machines to catch up to human intelligence, Hawking admitted there’s no way of knowing for sure. “There’s no consensus among AI researchers about how long it will take to build human-level AI and beyond,” he said, "so please don’t trust anyone who claims to know for sure that it will happen in your lifetime or that it won’t happen in your lifetime."

9. HE THOUGHT AI COULD DEVELOP THE WILL TO SURVIVE.

Even though AI robots wouldn’t have evolved like organic creatures, Hawking said an intelligent machine with a programmed goal could develop the drive to “survive” in order to help it accomplish that goal. “Surviving and having more resources will increase its chances of accomplishing that other goal. This can cause problems for humans whose resources get taken away."

10. HE DIDN’T REMEMBER WATCHING WAYNE’S WORLD 2.

One participant recounted a memory he has from the 1990s of watching Wayne’s World 2 in a video rental store when Stephen Hawking’s nurse wheeled him up in front of the television to watch alongside him. When asked if he recalled watching the movie, Hawking responded with an all-caps “NO.”

Wednesday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Computer Monitors, Plant-Based Protein Powder, and Blu-ray Sets

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 2. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

10 Perfect Gifts for The Pop Culture Connoisseur in Your Life

Funko/Pinsantiy/Lil Cinephile/Amazon
Funko/Pinsantiy/Lil Cinephile/Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Over the past year, most everyone has been marinating in all kinds of pop culture. More than any other era, this moment in time has revealed how much we as a society should value our creators and artists. From cinematic comfort food to walks down nostalgia lane, the holiday season is a perfect time to celebrate the pop culture moments and icons that have kept us happy, engaged, and awed.

Here are 10 perfect gifts the pop culture connoisseur in your life is sure to love.

1. A is for Auteur; $30

Lil Cinephile/Amazon

The same team that put out the delightful, surprisingly adaptable Cinephile card game ($18) last year is out with a new book perfect for the cineastes in your life who love Agnès Varda. This alphabet book goes from A (Paul Thomas Anderson) to Z (Fred Zinnemann) and celebrates the unique elements of more than two dozen filmmakers’ careers. It’s a tongue-in-cheek delight, and if you don’t actually want your child to know about Quentin Tarantino just yet, it makes a gorgeous addition to any adult’s coffee table.

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2. Schitt’s Creek Funkos; 4 for $77

Funko/Amazon

Eww, David! This set is ideal for fans of the Rose family who’d love Moira, Johnny, David, and Alexis peering down on them as they work or sleep or fold in the cheese. If you’re going the extra mile, grab the Amish David edition with hoodie, sunglasses, and rake. Individual figures run from $9-$30, and they all pair perfectly with a banana rosé.

Buy Them: Amazon

3. The Bruce Lee Criterion Collection; $68

Criterion Collection/Amazon

This is a stunning collection showcasing the best of the best of a true master alongside Criterion’s usual insightful commentary. Enter the Dragon has never been released as part of a collection before, and it stands as the crown jewel among The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon, and the infamous Game of Death—all digitally restored in either 2K or 4K. The collection also features documentaries about Lee; an interview with his widow, Linda Lee Caldwell; and a conversation about the “Bruceploitation” subgenre that blossomed following Lee's untimely death.

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4. NES Cartridge Coasters; $11

Paladone Products Ltd./Amazon

For the entertainer happy to have guests place their IPAs on SM3. These stylish coasters will protect your tables from coffee rings, wine stains, and barrels thrown by kidnapping apes. Plus, you won’t have to blow into these if they’re not loading correctly.

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5. Van Buren Boys Tee; $16

Underground Printing/Amazon

Deep into its eighth season, Seinfeld was still making iconic, quote-worthy moments. With this pre-shrunk, 100 percent cotton T, your favorite fan of the show about nothing can celebrate the comical street gang named for the 8th president (and the first president hailing from New York). It’s a handsome, comfortable shirt that comes in four colors and goes great with a Lorenzo’s pizza.

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6. This Television History Puzzle; $49

White Mountain Puzzle/Amazon

This pop collage of more than 250 stars and scenes from TV’s past is a 1000-piece puzzle from acclaimed artist James Mellett. It’s probably the only image in existence where Kunta Kinte is between Superman, Gumby, and Norm and Cliff from Cheers. A gorgeous walk down memory lane, it’s also a healthy challenge that, at 24x30, would make a fine wall hanging if you don’t want to toss it back into the box.

Buy It: Amazon

7. Pictures at a Revolution; $17

Penguin Books/Amazon

Entertainment Weekly veteran Mark Harris is one of the most respected film historians of this generation, and this book, which goes deep on five pivotal films, is a must-have for serious cinephiles. Exploring Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Look Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, and the surprise box office bomb Doctor Doolittle, Harris explores how 1967 marked a tectonic shift in American cultural preferences. Pair it with Five Came Back for bonus gifting points (and a book you can watch together on Netflix).

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8. The Art of Mondo; $44

Insight Editions/Amazon

This is high on the list of gifts you’ll end up keeping for yourself. This sublime book boasts 356 pages of gorgeous prints from everyone’s favorite films. Cult, classics, blockbusters, and buried gems, the Austin-based Mondo is world-renowned for limited release posters from the best artists on the planet. One sheets typically sell for hundreds of dollars, so this book is the cheapest way to get them all. For your friend, of course. Right?

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9. A Princess Bride Enamel Pin; $10

Pinsanity/Amazon

I do not think this pin means what you think it means. This playful piece features Vizzini’s shouting face above a stately “Inconceivable!” banner. It’s made of quality metal with vibrant enamel colors, and buying it should also send you down a rabbit hole looking for dozens of other pop culture pins.

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10. Marvel’s Greatest Comics; $23

DK/Amazon

Someone in your life is bound to want three pounds of Marvel comics. This definitive tome showcases 100 issues that changed the world and built a powerhouse pop culture company, from Marvel #1 in 1939 to Avengers #6 in 2018. The eye-popping artwork is accompanied by smart commentary from industry trailblazers and experts, which makes it as informative as it is entertaining. Just remember to say “Pow!” when you gift it.

Buy Them: Amazon

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