We’re not entirely sure why, but Stephen Hawking, star-botherer extraordinaire, is being quite the soothsayer of doom recently. Granted, he’s right that when it comes to climate change and artificial intelligence (AI), we should be wary, concerned, and informed – but his latest warning is probably his most apocalyptic-sounding yet.
Thanks to the overconsumption of resources, overcrowding, and the way we currently consume energy, Hawking told an audience in Beijing that in 600 years, the Earth could be a “sizzling ball of fire”, likely a slightly hyperbolic reference to climate change.
He doesn’t mean this literally, of course. Humans are pretty efficient when it comes to altering the climate, but unless we utilize some sort of catastrophic weapon or we all decide to terraform the planet into a new Venus, we won’t find ourselves on a world even approaching a searing flaming sphere.
One of the possible solutions to this problem – apart from actually tempering our addiction to fossil fuels and preventing harm to the world’s ecosystems, of course – is to leave the planet. Easier said than done, but during his video appearance at the 2017 Tencent WE Summit, Hawking said that we need to “boldly go where no one has gone before.”
He mentioned Breakthrough Starshot, a $100 million project to send a spacecraft to another star in a relatively short amount of time. The idea is that it’s the progenitor to future vessels that will send humanity out into the stars, something which Hawking is clearly quite keen to do.
As ever, these are wise words from the renowned physicist – but it’s a little bit of a shame that the optimism that peppered his earlier public engagements appears to have taken a backseat to visions of a ruined Earth ruled by killer robots and smothered in a blanket of carbon dioxide.
It’s certainly good to point out (particularly in this day and age) that science is telling us that, as a species, we’re royally messing things up. It’s worth highlighting, though, that we can use this same science to create wonderful things too, to empower us and to protect the only home we’ve ever known.
A consistent message of pessimism, however, threatens to trap us in a black hole of despair.