Earlier this year Stephen Hawking raised a few eyebrows (and heart rates) when he declared that any visit from intelligent alien life would probably result in the total destruction of humanity. But that's only if the computer AIs haven't already done the job.
Yet it transpires that Hawking holds a much more "normal" fear than close encounters and robotic uprisings: capitalism.
Or rather, technological unemployment furthering inequalities in wealth distribution.
During his recent Reddit Ask Me Anything session, the theoretical physicist was asked for his views on the possibilities of technological unemployment - a scenario in which robotic and mechanical solutions create a more efficient production line than a human workforce and cause mass unemployment.
Hawking offered this sobering response:
If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. 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 redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.
Now Hawking doesn't claim to be an economist, and there are many theories on whether modernity's increasing wealth gap has a direct relation with the growth of technological enterprise and gadgets - but it's still a savvy observation to suggest that everyone should benefit from a world where robots have created less work, right?
Here's hoping an alien race with a more enlightened economic system arrive some time soon to show us the error of our ways.