Dr. Stephen Hawking, professor and research director at Cambridge University’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, has expressed his belief that technology will be our undoing and will bring new ways for things to go wrong and end humanity’s future existence. Hawking said at a teleconference in Hong Kong, “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.” He made substantially the same statements in response to questions when recording the BBC’s annual Reith Lectures on January 7, 2016.
He said that he believes our only hope is to spread out in space and colonize other worlds. He believes that it will take at least 100 years to establish a colony on another world in our solar system and the next 1000 years to spread to other solar systems. Our objective must be to establish self-sustaining colonies that are independent of our home planet Earth. This is because he believes we will kill ourselves on planet Earth and we need to be self-sustaining elsewhere for humanity to survive.
While we agree on the threats, we must be a pessimist about the space options and an optimist that human beings on this planet are taking the steps necessary for us to survive. We must support space colonization because of the knowledge we gain about surviving in hostile environments. We cannot believe we can colonize other solar systems. We cannot believe that colonies can support more than a few thousand humans, certainly not any real fraction of the seven plus billion population of the world.
Dr. Hawking has reliance on the science fictional development of a technology that allows our speed to approach that of light. The author sees no practical approach that permits us to significantly increase our speed. This Hawking suggestion represents his ‘hail Mary’ pass about the future.
In our book, Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, it is shown it would take 18,000 years at 150,000 miles per hour, our current rate of maximum speed, to reach the nearest star. Even if you triple or quadruple this speed the time to reach the star dwarfs our ability to maintain life in outer space by a large margin. The book is explicit about our practical isolation in the universe (see Chapter 4 about travel to Alpha Centuri C).
Those readers who have the book Beyond Animal, Ego and Time or follow the blog www.iamaguardian.com know that the writer has warned about these hazards specifically with the exception of artificial intelligence. The author has warned about climate change, nuclear weapons and genetic engineering/synthetic biology. While we have also warned about the ozone depletion of the planet’s atmosphere, we have recently written blog articles about asteroids and meteors hitting the earth. On these threats there is agreement.
Although the writer wishes it were not so, he is not the fatalist that Dr. Hawking is proving to be. The outcomes we fear, while all legitimate, must be solved soon by us before our worst fears come to pass. There is certainly no option to wait for a century to solve these problems. The climate change outcome is dependent upon what humanity does in the next decade.
All of these problems should be dwelt with in the next few decades. We must have faith there is a solution to each of these hazards that has been spelled out in the blog articles over the last four years or so.
The only one we have not dealt with is the meteor strike on our planet and this too can be solved. We can interrupt the trajectory of a meteor or asteroid that we know is coming toward us. So far we are making too little an effort to identify these objects and are making no effort to learn how to modify trajectories. We just need to get going.
We must stay the course on each of the threats we face. None of them involve quick or easy fixes. We cannot give up as Dr. Hawking suggests. We can be fatalistic but not in his way. We must believe human beings will confront each threat and solve the underlying problems. We should believe in ourselves to triumph over problems we have created or we can foresee.
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