In a new interview Stephen Hawking discusses all the different ways humans might bring about their own demise.
Not surprisingly, the list features all your usual suspects, including nuclear war, global warming, and genetically engineered viruses.
What’s to blame? Hawking thinks it’s technology: “Most of the threats we face come from the progress we’ve made in science and technology,” he’s quoted as saying.
The interview was in anticipation of his Reith Lectures on black holes, which will take place January 26 to February 2 on BBC 4 and the BBC World Service.
If you’re keeping score, you know we’re less than three weeks into 2016, and already we have two major scientists spelling out the end of humanity as we know it: Last week, it was Seth Shostak, the communications director at the SETI Institute, who wondered, “could this be humanity’s last century?”
This isn’t the first time Hawking has raised concerns about the direction of technological advancement on this planet. You might remember a letter released last year that decried A.I. progress could result in death and destruction. Hawking was among a long list of prominent names to sign the letter.
“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,” he said.
What’s the cure? Establishing colonies on other planets, of course.
But, as Hawking is quick to point out, we’re not yet in a position where we can do that. “We will not establish self-sustaining colonies in space for at least the next hundred years,” he said. “So we have to be very careful in this period.”
So we need a new plan. And Hawking rightly suggests increased education about science and technology. “It’s important to ensure that these changes are heading in the right directions.” he said. “In a democratic society, this means that everyone needs to have a basic understanding of science to make informed decisions about the future.”
Furthermore Hawking doesn’t want you to think he’s begun worshipping at the altar of cynicism. He thinks humans will indeed find a way to deal with this century’s issues and make it to 2100 and beyond. “We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we have to recognize the dangers and control them,” he said. “I’m an optimist, and I believe we can.”
Indeed, the man who’s lived with ALS for most of his life and has still remained one of the most influential minds of our time is a good symbol for the kind of willpower humans can muster to not just survive — but thrive.
His Reith Lecture should be a grand ol’ time.