Today, we lost one of the greatest minds on the planet, Stephen Hawking.
While Hawking will always be remembered for his insights into black holes, the nature of space-time, and the origins of the universe, he lent his brilliant brain to the concerns of humanity on a fair few occasions – often with a wise yet ominous warning.
However, his cautions were not grim tales of pessimism. Like all visionaries, his message was ultimately one of hope and peace. He passionately believed our future will be found through the exploration of space beyond planet Earth. The only problem, he worried, was reaching a point where this was possible.
In 2016, Professor Hawking warned that the fate of humanity could be doomed by our own progress because science and technology could create “new ways things can go wrong.” He was especially wary of nuclear war, climate change, and genetically-engineered viruses, arguing that they could cause humanity’s downfall within 100 years.
“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 told the BBC. “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.”
In recent years, his concerns were often consumed by the rise of artificial intelligence. “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” he told the BBC in 2014.
“It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate,” he warned. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”
He was also a vehement opponent of war. After the invasion of Iraq by the US and UK, he proclaimed “The war was based on two lies,” arguing the claims of weapons of mass destruction and the link to 9/11 had proved untrue. “It has been a tragedy for all the families. If that is not a war crime, what is?”
After more recent events, Hawking described President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Climate Agreement as “the most serious and wrong decision on climate this world has seen.”
“There is no new world, no utopia around the corner,” Hawking told the crowd at the Starmus festival via Skype in Norway in 2017. “It is time to explore other Solar Systems. Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth.”
Hawking’s life is now over but his visions of the future are seemingly more relevant than ever. Perhaps, with a lot of hard work, we will soon fulfill his dream of becoming an interplanetary species and avoid any self-induced demise.