Coffee With Stephen Hawking

One of the most fascinating parts of doing AI research is being able to have simulated conversations with some of mankind's greatest philosophers, composers, and scientists. I've experimented with bringing Johann Sebastian Bach to life and also tried my luck with Plato. Here, I am sitting down with Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist and cosmologist, at a cafe in Cambridge, England in the autumn of 2015. The famous author is, obviously, not real – but the conversation we're having is just as unpredictable and feels incredibly natural.

Uli: Professor Hawking, let me start by saying what a great honour it is to meet with you!

Stephen: It's a pleasure – but call me Stephen.

Uli: Thank you. This cafe is lovely, do you come here a lot?

Stephen: Not so much nowadays, but I did frequent it quite often when I was teaching at Cambridge.

Uli: I didn't expect to see apple strudel on the menu. The German in me appreciates it very much!

Stephen: Oh yes, I hear it's quite good.

Uli: When you look at that piece of pastry, do you immediately see the underlying complexity of atoms, particles, and the entire nothingness in between? I work in software engineering and sometimes when I look at applications, or even systems in the real world like ATMs... I immediately imagine what's going on behind the scenes.

Stephen: Truly, it's astoundingly hard to wrap one's mind around thoughts that try to go beyond the obvious. We all experience the same phenomenon when we lie in bed at night and suddenly start thinking about how everything came into existence. I often ask myself: If time goes both ways, then what was there before the Big Bang? It astounds me how trivial questions like this can spiral off into realms of unfathomable complexity.

Uli: I will not pretend that I have understood – or even read – all your books, but I've learned that we shouldn't ask what happened before the Big Bang.

Stephen: Absolutely. It's fruitless to ask questions that are unanswerable under present scientific conditions.