Stephen Hawking's Top Three Predictions for the End of the World

Thursday, 15 March 2018 - 12:08PM
Physics
Alien Life
Dystopias
Thursday, 15 March 2018 - 12:08PM
Stephen Hawking's Top Three Predictions for the End of the World
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Image Credit: Pixabay
Like a collapsing star, Stephen Hawking's death has left a black hole in our hearts. Though the man himself is gone, his words live on – especially his warnings about the end of the world. Like Elon Musk, Hawking took the long view on humanity's survival and became increasingly concerned with extinction-level events like asteroids and nuclear war. But Hawking kept returning to three specific threats: climate change, artificial intelligence, and alien contact.

Hawking's warnings about climate change revolved primarily around the idea of a "tipping point," the threshold at which the Earth's increased warming becomes irreversible and the planet slowly becomes an uninhabitable hellscape. When the US pulled out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, Hawking was outspoken about the stakes: "We are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible. [President Donald] Trump's action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of two hundred and fifty degrees, and raining sulphuric acid."

The threat of AI, however, seemed like a slightly more abstract threat to humanity. Elon Musk's infamous claim that we won't realize the threat of AI until robots walk down the street killing people seems bombastic compared to Hawking's big-picture worries: "Success in creating effective AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don't know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and side-lined, or conceivably destroyed by it... [AI] brings dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It could bring great disruption to our economy."

Finally, Hawking was wary of contacting alien life. It seems ironic coming from a founding member of the Breakthrough Listen project, which searches for extraterrestrial life by watching for potential communication from alien civilizations. If we ever did receive a message, Hawking said we shouldn't respond: "If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans. We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet."

As humanity looks toward colonizing the solar system and exploring the galaxy, Hawking's warnings may turn out to be remarkably prescient. Only time will tell.

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