Reddit’s ‘Ask Me Anything’ Feature (or AMA) has potentially received more press this month than it has received in the last five years – and the headlines weren’t good for the “front page of the Internet”.

The firing of Victoria Taylor, AMA’s long-term moderator, behaved as a catalyst to increasing discontent among its user base, creating an online civil war that resulted in the casualty of interim CEO, Ellen Pao.

Between the censorship disputes, the website shutting itself down in protest, the month long string of PR emergencies – and a resignation due to online abuse:

Reddit needed a hero.

…And that hero is Stephen Hawking.

Stephen Hawking’s AMA started on July 27th and will finish on the 4th August. Users have eight whole days to pelt the most prestigious scientific mind of our lifetime with questions. After establishing the most pressing questions, Hawking will answer them by working with Reddit for weeks afterwards.

Sponsored by Nokia and Wired, the AMA (aside from being a great save by Reddit’s PR department) slots into Wired’s campaign to get people talking about the accelerating advances in artificial intelligence (look out for ‘robots with human cognition’, coming soon).

The hashtag #MakeTechHuman, responds to what they describe as “a sharp dichotomy” that has emerged in “the big debate about where technology is taking us.”

Wired notes that artificial intelligence discussion splits scientists, scholars and citizens alike. Some are very optimistic. Others, like Hawking, advise caution: “The pace of innovation, dizzying as it may seem over the last generation alone, is accelerating. Technologies in the service of automation– the driving force of human innovation since spears and wheel– are giving way to breakthroughs that hold the potential of humanization. Computer interfaces are approaching embryonic states of consciousness.”

Curiously, the debates among scientists appear to mirror the 18th century debates among scholars in the Enlightenment era. As science and empiricism began to deconstruct long-held religious beliefs, societal anxiety increased, sparking huge disputes between science-optimists and science-pessimists.

Unlike the 18th century however, the debate is no longer reserved to coffee houses for scholars and the royal society. In turn, the Hawking’s AMA not only serves as a great PR strategy (read: distraction), it also promotes scholarly discussion on a platform accessible to all.

We have one comment for Reddit’s PR team: Nice save.

Blog by: Clare