Stephen Hawking believes that the next 100 years will prove to be humanity’s greatest trial yet: will we reach for the stars, or destroy ourselves before we get there?
He believes that the threats of global warming, nuclear apocalypse and genetically-engineered viruses could be formidable threats to humanity in that time-frame.
He had previously noted that AI was a threat that could cause human extinction- though he believes that capitalism would be a greater threat than even AI.
As the premier expert on all things science, he believes that greater advancement of scientific knowledge will also inevitably expose us to “new ways things can go wrong”.
He made his remarks in response to an audience-member’s question during a BBC Reith Lecture, saying that humanity would be more likely to survive if it managed to colonize other planets.
“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 ten thousand years.
“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.
“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.”
Despite the numerous threats we pose to ourselves, he believes that science is a double-edged sword and that we will be able to mitigate the potentially harmful repercussions of its advancement.
“We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we have to recognise the dangers and control them. I’m an optimist, and I believe we can.”
He also gave his advice to aspiring scientists, believing in the importance of having a sense of wonder about “our vast and complex” Universe.
“From my own perspective, it has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics. There is nothing like the Eureka moment of discovering something that no one knew before.”
This next generation of scientists also have a responsibility to explain how scientific and technological progress will change the world to the general public.
“It’s important to ensure that these changes are heading in the right directions. In a democratic society, this means that everyone needs to have a basic understanding of science to make informed decisions about the future.
“So communicate plainly what you are trying to do in science, and who knows, you might even end up understanding it yourself.”
Lucy, his daughter, was asked to explain how he managed to maintain his drive to continuously overcome the physical disability associated with motor-neuron disease.
“I think he’s enormously stubborn and has a very enviable wish to keep going and the ability to summon all his reserves, all his energy, all his mental focus and press them all into that goal of keeping going,” she said.
“But not just to keep going for the purposes of survival, but to transcend this by producing extraordinary work, writing books, giving lectures, inspiring other people with neurodegenerative and other disabilities, and being a family man, a friend and a colleague to so many people and keeping up with friends across the world.”
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