The first assumption is that humanity is worth saving.
The second is that Stephen Hawking is a genius.
So, if it takes a genius to suggest that the human race is driving itself to extinction, Stephen Hawking has recently suggested just that. The Cambridge University professor was presenting a lecture earlier this month when he rather pessimistically mused that we humans are really making a mess of things.
“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.
Humans seem to be exacerbating the problem by engineering preventable crises such as climate change and nuclear war. Hawking believes that colonizing distant planets and stars is the answer to preserving the human race if a major disaster was to raze Earth.
The third assumption is that all previous, generally accepted assumptions are untrue. Of course, Stephen Hawking is a globally acclaimed astrophysicist, but it seems to me that he’s been watching far too many Stanley Kubrick movies instead of focusing on what he has devoted his entire life to — hard science.
Colonizing planets hundreds of millions of miles away hardly seems like a practical, let alone responsible, endeavor. Even if space travel was light years ahead of where it is now — no pun intended — Hawking is suggesting that future generations will have such a dismal quality of life here on the blue planet that there isn’t even a point in staying. One might presume that a better alternative would be to fix what we already have instead of abandoning it to float around the sun as an organic piece of space garbage.
I’m not being fair to the professor. In his defense, he did say that “we will not establish self-sustaining colonies in space for at least the next hundred years.” He went on to say that with advancements in technology comes “new ways things can go wrong.” It sounds like Hawking is wary of how fast technology is advancing in this world. It sounds like the scientific and intellectual progression of mankind could be a bad thing. But to consider how far we’ve come in just the last 50 years is staggering. Isn’t the world a better place overall?
Sure there’s environmental neglect and war in the world. But Earth is our home. It’s resilient, and so are we. It would seem counterintuitive to slow down the march of science in favor of these fanciful concerns.
Stephen Hawking has never shied away from sharing his perspectives with the world. As if straight from the pages of an Isaac Asimov novel, he has opined in the past that artificial intelligence may one day wipe out humanity before we even have the chance to leave Earth. You would think that someone so preoccupied with these fictional ideas would know how they all resolve. Calm down, professor — humanity always wins.
John Lancaster is a Contributing Columnist for the Central Florida Future.