Stephen Hawking Warns That Science And Technology May Be Our Demise — With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
According to Professor Stephen Hawking, the future of society is in peril due to our incredible advances in science and technology. Our worlds nuclear capabilities, genetically modified viruses and global warming are just a few of his examples.
“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 ten thousand 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.” – Stephen Hawking
His prediction of humanity being spread out through space is most likely accurate, but that won’t happen over night. Our space capabilities while impressive, are still extremely limited when it comes to creating a self-sustaining colony. Hawking makes note of this.
“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.”
Our advancements in technology while incredible, are also our downfall. It’s exactly as the saying goes “with great power comes great responsibility”. When people who don’t have the responsibility to handle the incredible power we possess…problems arise. When people are more driven by money than by humanity…problems arise. And when our technology is capable of creating major world disasters, we have to be extremely careful.
“We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we have to recognise the dangers and control them. I’m an optimist, and I believe we can.” – Stephen Hawking
While discussing the possible “things that could go wrong” with an audience at the BBC’s Reith Lectures, Hawking strongly lectured the necessity for space colonization in order to ensure the human species survives.
It’s funny how such a leading figure in science is one to criticize it’s progress, but what he says is true. And he says it as a warning in hopes that it falls on the ears of the people who are in power. The people who have the means of harnessing our technology in a good…or bad way. There are so many ways things can go wrong; people need to be aware of the potential consequences for ill informed actions.
Hawking, while famous for his scientific breakthrough’s is now becoming know for his warnings about science. Just last summer he (and 1000 other intellectuals) signed an open letter about the dangers of weaponizing robots directed at the ongoing “military arms race” for artificial intelligence.
Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group. We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity. There are many ways in which AI can make battlefields safer for humans, especially civilians, without creating new tools for killing people. – Open Letter
Hawking has also warned CERN scientists about the potential decimation of the universe caused by the Higgs Boson “God Particle”. It could, in theory cause, catastrophic vacuum decay forming of a quantum bubble expanding at the speed of light…not fun.
“The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100 [billion] gigaelectronvolts (GeV). … This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light. This could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming.” – Stephen Hawking
Hawking believes that if we are aware of inherent scientific and technological dangers such as these, we can successfully control them and keep our species and this planet safe.
“We have to recognize the dangers and control them. I’m an optimist, and I believe we can.” – Stephen Hawking
He goes on to talk about the importance of education when it comes to scientific advancement. If new technology/knowledge isn’t understood, undesirable outcomes are only increased. The population needs to have a basic understanding of things in order to make good decisions about the direction of progress.
“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.
While criticizing the direction science is going, Hawking always stays positive. He understands that now is and incredible time for the advancement of science, and as long as we proceed with caution, only brilliance awaits us. He left this advice for young scientists:
“From my own perspective, it has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics. There is nothing like the Eureka moment of discovering something that no one knew before.”
The BBC lectures with Stephen Hawking can be found online here.