Stephen Hawking’s peculiarity is that the world listens when he discusses big ideas. Not satisfied with informing us, “that God does not exist,” or that we can be “destroyed by an alien invasion,” the British superstar physician went on record, saying that humanity will “score the most important own goal in the near future,” and this, according to him, a great reason for humanity to get off the planet.
“The chances of a catastrophe on Earth this year are very low, it will take more time, and will occur around the next millennium or even after ten millennia,” said Hawking during his first “Ritovskoy” lecture on the BBC, which was broadcast on the 26th January “But by this time we should be settled in space in other star systems in such a way that a catastrophe on Earth will not mark the end of the human race.”
“However, we will not be able to create self-sufficient colonies in space for at least the next hundred years, so we must be very careful during this period.”
Hawking argues that the cause of this - almost certain - death, over the next few centuries, is likely to be humanity itself. Of the most likely candidates, he identifies the most familiar suspects: nuclear war, global warming, and genetically engineered viruses. Earlier, Hawking also warned about the achievements in the field of artificial intelligence, which can go against humanity. His fears are also shared by other prominent figures, including the founder of SpaceX and Tesla - Elon Mask.
But, fortunately, there is still hope.
“We are not going to stop progress or turn it around, so we must recognize and control its dangers in the future,” said Hawking. “I’m an optimist and believe it.”
This may not seem very optimistic, look for those strange and amazing ways that we are most likely to die out, but with this knowledge we may be able to prevent the worst cataclysms that could bring on ourselves in the future. Otherwise, Hawking argues, we must seriously focus our efforts on the exploration of space and the spread of humanity in the solar system, and possibly beyond. The earth may perish, but humanity must not.
I do support Hawking’s repeated messages urging us to explore the cosmos, and share some of his optimism for the future of humanity. Space exploration, in particular the capabilities of private rocket companies, show us that sending anything to space has become easier and more accessible. Elon Musk has long-term plans for SpaceX to send a colony to Mars. Ten years ago it was fiction, but with a breakthrough in rocket technology over the past years, a flight to Mars is not perceived as something impossible, even though it is still far away. However, Hawking's warnings should not be viewed as “another” doomsday theory. Recognizing potential big threats, in particular those we create ourselves, is the key to helping us avoid them in the future.
I actually look more pessimistic than Hawking at a person’s ability to avoid or repair the damage done to our planet. Only now have we begun to take serious steps to slow down greenhouse gas emissions, when it is too late for many island states that have suffered from rising sea levels. Irreversible changes were caused by our persistent desire to develop and use natural resources. We need big ideas from the best minds of the planet to come up with geoengineering projects that can protect our future.
But at the same time, why put all the eggs in one basket? Good or bad, but there has never been a better time for space exploration and the possible sowing of new worlds, beginning with Mars, life.