10 Things We Learned From Stephen Hawking’s AMA

Getty
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.”

5 Clues Daenerys Targaryen Will Die in the Final Season of Game of Thrones

HBO
HBO

by Mason Segall

The final season of HBO's epic Game of Thrones is hovering on the horizon like a lazy sun and, at the end of the day, fans have only one real question about how it will end: Who will sit the Iron Throne? One of the major contenders is Daenerys of the thousand-and-one names, who not only has one of the most legitimate claims to the throne, but probably deserves it the most.

However, Game of Thrones has a habit of killing off main characters, particularly honorable ones, often in brutal and graphic ways. And unfortunately, there's already been some foreshadowing that writers will paint a target on Daenerys's back.

5. THE PROPHECIES

Carice van Houten in 'Game of Thrones'
Helen Sloan, HBO

What's a good fantasy story without a few prophecies hanging over people's heads? While the books the show is based on have a few more than usual, the main prophecy of Game of Thrones is Melisandre's rants about "the prince that was promised," basically her faith's version of a messiah.

Melisandre currently believes both Daenerys and Jon Snow somehow fulfill the prophecy, but her previous pick for the position died a grisly death, so maybe her endorsement isn't a good sign.

4. TYRION'S DEMANDS FOR A SUCCESSOR

Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke in a scene from 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

A particular scene in season seven saw Tyrion advising Daenerys to name a successor before she travels north to help Jon. She challenges him, "You want to know who sits on the Iron Throne after I'm dead. Is that it?" But that's exactly it. Tyrion is more than aware how mortal people are and wants to take precautions. He's seen enough monarchs die that he probably knows what warning signs to look for.

3. A FAMILY LEGACY

David Rintoul as the Mad King in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

Daenerys is the daughter of the Mad King Aerys II, a paranoid pyromaniac of a monarch. More than once, Daenerys has been compared to her father, particularly in her more ruthless moments. Aerys was killed because of his insanity and arrogance. If Daenerys starts displaying more of his mental illness, she might follow in his footsteps to the grave.

2. HER DRAGONS AREN'T INVINCIBLE

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

The fall and subsequent resurrection of the dragon Viserion was one of the biggest surprises of season seven. Not only did it destroy one of Daenerys's trump cards, but it proved that her other two dragons were vulnerable as well. Since the three-headed dragon is the sigil of her house, this might be an omen that Daenerys is next on the chopping block.

1. THAT VISION

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

All the way back in season two, Daenerys received a vision in the House of the Undying of the great hall in King's Landing ransacked and covered in snow. Before she could even touch the iron throne, she was called away by her dragons and was confronted by her deceased husband and son. This is a clear indication that she might never sit the throne, something that would only happen if she were dead.

7 Tips for Winning an Arm Wrestling Match

iStock
iStock

Geoff Hale was playing Division II college baseball in Kansas City, Missouri, when he sat down and started flipping through the channels on his TV. There—probably on TBS—was Over the Top, the 1987 arm wrestling melodrama starring Sylvester Stallone as Lincoln Hawke, a truck driver who aspires to win his estranged son’s affections. And to do that, he has to win a national arm wrestling tournament. Obviously.

Neither the worst nor the best of Stallone’s efforts, Over the Top made Hale recall his high school years and how the fringe sport had satisfied his athletic interests, which weren't being met by baseball. “I had never lost a match,” Hale tells Mental Floss of his arm wrestling prowess. “The movie reminded me that I was good at it.”

That was 13 years ago. Now a professional competitor known as the Haleraiser, the full-time petroleum geologist has won several major titles. While you may not have the constitution for the surprisingly traumatic sport (more on that later), you might still want to handle yourself in the event of a spontaneous match breaking out. We asked Hale for some tips on what to do when you’re confronted with the opportunity to achieve a modest amount of glory while arm-grappling on a beer-stained table. This is what he told us.

1. KNOW THAT SIZE DOESN'T MATTER.

A child uses books to help in arm-wrestling an adult
iStock

Well, it does. But really only if your opponent knows what they’re doing. Otherwise, having a bowling pin for a forearm isn’t anything to be wary about. If anything, your densely-built foe may have a false sense of confidence. “Everyone has arm-wrestled since they were a kid and thinks they know what it is,” Hale says. “It looks easy, but there’s actually a very complex set of movements. It’s good to check your ego at the door.”

2. PRETEND YOU’RE PART OF THE TABLE.

A man offers to arm wrestle from behind a table
iStock

When you square up with your opposition to lock hands—thumb digging into the fleshy part, fingers wrapped around the back—don’t lean over the table with your butt in the air. And don’t make the common mistake of sitting down for a match, either. “It limits you from a technique standpoint,” Hale says, and could even open you up to injury.

Instead, you want to plant the foot that matches your dominant hand under the table with your hip touching the edge. With your free hand, grip the edge or push down on the top for stability. “Pretend like you’re part of the table,” Hale says. That way, you’ll be able to recruit your shoulders, triceps, and biceps into the competition.

3. REMEMBER TO BREATHE.

Two men engage in an arm wrestling match
iStock

If you’re turning the color of a lobster, you’re probably holding in your breath. “Don’t,” Hale says. Remember to continue taking in air through your nose. There’s no benefit to treating the match like a diving expedition. The lack of oxygen will just tire your muscles out faster.

4. BEAT THE HAND, NOT THE ARM.

Two hands appear in close-up during an arm wrestling contest
iStock

There are three basic techniques in arm wrestling, according to Hale: the shoulder press, the hook, and the top roll. The shoulder press recruits the shoulder right behind the arm, pushing the opposing appendage down as if you were performing a triceps pressdown. The hook is more complex, varying pressure from all sides and incorporating pulling motions to bend the wrist backward. For the best chance of winning, opt for the top roll, which involves sliding your hand up your opponent’s so your grip is attacking the top portion nearest the fingers. That way, he or she is recruiting fewer major muscle groups to resist. “When you beat the hand, the arm follows,” Hale says. Because this is more strategy than strength, you might wind up toppling some formidable-looking opponents.

5. IN A STALEMATE, WAIT FOR AN OPENING.

A man and woman engage in an arm wrestling contest
iStock

While lots of arm wrestling matches end quickly, others become a battle of attrition. When you find yourself locked up in the middle of the table, wait for your opponent to relax. They almost always will. “In a neutral position, it’s good to stay static, keeping your body and arm locked up,” Hale says. “You’re just waiting for your opponent to make a mistake.” The moment you feel their arm lose tension, attack.

6. TRY SCREAMING.

A woman screams while winning an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestlers play all kinds of psychological games, and while some might be immune to trash talk, it’s likely your rival will be influenced by some selective insults. “You can make someone lose their focus easily,” Hale says. “In a stalemate, you can give them a hard time, tell them they’re not strong. It’s intimidating to be out of breath and to see someone just talking.”

7. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, GO SECOND.

A man struggles while losing an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestling exacts a heavy toll on winners and losers alike: The prolonged muscle contractions can easily fatigue people not used to the exertion. If you fear a loss from a bigger, stronger opponent, conspire to have them wrestle someone else first, then take advantage of their fatigue.

If all goes well, you might want to consider pursuing the sport on more competitive levels—but you probably shouldn’t. “It takes a toll on the body,” Hale says. “I’ve got tendonitis and don’t compete as much as I used to. On the amateur level, it’s common to see arm breaks, usually the humerus [upper arm] bone. The body was not really made for arm wrestling.”

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