Do you have something pressing you need to get done? You might want to take care of it by 2116, because Stephen Hawking thinks humanity might be done for in the next hundred years if we’re not careful.
The world renowned physicist expressed this concern while recording the BBC’s annual Reith Lectures. Hawking says that scientific and technological progress is not without its man-made dangers and that we could be wiped out by such cheerful things as nuclear war, global warming, and genetically-engineered viruses. Lots of exciting instruments of mass death, really. It’s not something that Hawking considers to be a lock, but the threat of self-extinction is something to be cautious about while we’re bound to Earth. It’s a danger that looms even as the prospect of a non-man-made disaster appears to be millennia away.
“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.”
It all sounds kinda bleak when you read it, but the Associated Press notes that the bit about the self-sustaining colonies in space was a joke and the audience laughed so, um, yay? (We suppose it’s all in the delivery.) Hawking also championed the value of understanding the way scientific progress impacts humanity.
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.
Speaking of informed decisions about the future, you might want to dig into the details of Hawking’s latest theory about black holes. Ideally, you’ll have more than 100 years on your hands to read it, but why take the risk?