Stephen Hawking is the world-famous English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge in the UK. His 1988 book A Brief History of Time, introduced the world to his view of cosmology. Today, when Hawking – confined for many years to a wheelchair by a form of the motor-neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – speaks, the world tends to listen.
Hawking has previously announced he can prove that God does not exist and that there’s every chance that upon discovering life in outer space, it would kill us. Now, he contends that “[h]umanity is at risk from a series of dangers of our own making”.
Nuclear war, the drive to create artificial intelligence, global
warming and genetically engineered viruses are among the scenarios he singles out.
And he says that further progress in science and technology will create “new ways things can go wrong”.
Hawkings was delivering the popular Ruth Reith lectures on BBC Radio earlier this year when he prophesied about humanity’s future.
“Although the chance of a disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, and becomes a near
certainty in the next thousand or 10 thousand years,” Hawking said.
“By that time we should have spread out into space, and to other stars, so a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race. We should really focus our efforts on space exploration and spreading humanity to the solar system and (possibly) beyond.
“However, we will not establish self-sustaining colonies in space for at least the next hundred years, so we have to be very careful in this period.”
Hawking did offer some hope. As a collective civilisation, he
opined, “We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we have to recognise the dangers and control them,” he said. “I’m an optimist, and I believe we can.”
Colonising other worlds is no longer a fantasy. For example,
South African-born Canadian-American business magnate, engineer and investor, Elon Musk, has long-term plans to set up a SpaceX-driven colony on Mars.
Hawking is not alone when he says that we have reached a critical point in our history on Earth. Many scientists and activists say that only now are we making serious moves to slow our emissions of greenhouse gases, when it’s already too late for many island nations that are being swamped by sea level rises. Irreversible
damage has been caused to our planet by our persistent tendencies
to exploit its natural resources.
Category: Winter 2016