Thursday 26 April 2018

Man-made disaster wiping out Earth a near certainty: Hawking

British physicist Stephen Hawking. REUTERS/Toby Melville
British physicist Stephen Hawking. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Professor Stephen Hawking has warned that robots could become uncontrollable and take over Earth

Sarah Knapton

Professor Stephen Hawking has warned that a disaster on Earth within the next 1,000 or 10,000 years is a "near certainty".

The cosmologist said genetically engineered viruses, nuclear war and global warming all threatened to wipe out the human race in the foreseeable future.

He argued that unstoppable developments in science and technology were likely to prove the biggest danger, adding that the human race may be able to survive only in colonies on other planets in the solar system.

"Most of the threats we face come from the progress we've made in science and technology. We face a number of threats - nuclear war, global warming and genetically engineered viruses," said Prof Hawking in an interview.

"Although the chance of a disaster on planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, becoming a near certainty in the next 1,000 or 10,000 years.

"By that time, we should have spread out into space, so it would not mean the end of the human race. However, we will not establish self-sustaining colonies in space for at least the next 100 years, so we have to be very careful in this period."

Previously, Prof Hawking has spoken of the dangers of the rise of artificial intelligence and has called for global agreements to prevent robots becoming uncontrollable.

He added: "We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we must recognise the dangers and control them. I'm an optimist, I believe we can. Science and technology are changing our world dramatically, so it's important to ensure that these changes are heading in the right directions.

"In a democratic society, this means that everyone needs to have a basic understanding of science, to make informed decisions about the future."

When asked what inspires him to keep going, he said that a keen sense of humour was crucial to stopping him becoming disheartened following his motor neurone disease diagnosis.

"When I turned 21, my expectations were reduced to zero," he said. "It was important that I came to appreciate what I did have. Although I was unfortunate to get motor neurone disease, I've been very fortunate in almost everything else.

"Theoretical physics is one of the few areas in which my disability is not a serious handicap." (© Daily Telegraph London)

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