As Chuck Palahniuk once wrote, “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero.” If you’ve listened much to Stephen Hawking over the last decade, you may get the feeling our own timeline isn’t going to be very long. In recent years, the celebrated cosmologist has come out with progressively more dire warnings for the human race.
In his latest observation, Hawking told Britain’s Oxford University Union:
“I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”
This is far from his most dire warning. The theoretical physicist has made it almost a hobby. In fact, here is a rundown of five ways the human race could be annihilated in the coming centuries, according to Stephen Hawking.
In 2015, Hawking joined Tesla’s Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Google executive Demis Hassabis, and over 1,000 artificial intelligence experts who crafted an open letter about “military artificial intelligence arms race” and weaponized robots.
According to the letter:
“AI technology has reached a point where the deployment of [autonomous weapons] is – practically if not legally – feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”
Hawking isn’t completely opposed to developing strong artificial intelligence but cautions that we have no idea what will happen when they supersede our intelligence. As a result, the risk factor is very high, especially when combined with automated weapons systems.
Hawking made a splash in the news last year when during his show, “Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places,” he explained that he planned to scan the exoplanet Gliese 832c, located 16 light years from Earth, for signs of intelligent life. He made clear his desire to deploy a “swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system.”
But Hawking raised some eyebrows with his next statement:
“One day we might receive a signal from a planet like this, but we should be wary of answering back. Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.”
Despite some depictions of aliens as being so advanced they are transcendently benevolent, Hawking seems to envision that there are colonial aspects in outer space. In a previous interview, he intimated ET might not be too dissimilar from an American empire searching for oil:
“I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”
He imagines any species that has traversed such an incredible interstellar distance would have weapons systems just as advanced as their propulsion.
Catastrophic Vacuum Decay
The 2012 discovery of the “God particle,” Higgs boson, by scientists at the Large Hadron Collider was a monumental achievement that proved three of the four fundamental forces of the universe. But for one man, Stephen Hawking, it portended the destruction of the universe.
As previously covered by the Anti-Media:
“In (his essay) Starmus, Hawking describes how the quantum field by which the Higgs boson bestows mass upon particles makes it different than most others. Normally, these fields are vacuum states; but the Higgs field is not a true vacuum, and over time, is becoming unstable. When the Higgs field transitions to a high energy state, a process Hawking and others argue has begun, it will trigger a quantum fluctuation known as vacuum decay.
“During the vacuum decay, which could quite literally begin any second, a metastable high energy bubble will begin to consume everything around it at the speed of light. Eventually, this bubble will reach the Earth…”
In other words, according to Hawking, the discovery of the “God particle” may have only proven our inexorable doom.
One of the greatest dangers facing humanity, according to Hawking, is none other than crony capitalism on a global scale. Specifically, he refers to “rampant inequality expedited by the automated machine-based global economic system.”
“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed,” Hawking said during a Reddit AMA. “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”
Speaking at London’s Royal Institution, Hawking said:
“We face a number of threats to our survival from nuclear war, catastrophic global warming, and genetically engineered viruses.
“The number is likely to increase in the future, with the development of new technologies, and new ways things can go wrong. 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 10,000 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.”
Interestingly, Hawking isolated threats from scientific advancement as the most dangerous to the human race. It’s a Catch-22. While we will need exponential technological and scientific advancement in order to colonize other planets (thus ensuring us in case of an Earth-sized mortality event), this very growth could sew the seeds of our doom.
And there’s another Catch-22. In accelerating our technology to escape the planet, we will dramatically affect the Earth’s ecosystems and cause even more runaway “catastrophic global warming,” which Hawking also lists as one of the single greatest threats facing us.