Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hawking's quandary

He recently posed the question 'How can the human race survive the next hundred years?'. Here's his response.

Curiously, in places it resembles Koestler's ideas.

Before the 1940s, the main threat to our survival came from collisions with asteroids. ...

A much more immediate danger, is nuclear war.

and also at the very end:
Perhaps, we must hope that genetic engineering will make us wise and less aggressive.
A modern equivalent of the "brain fix pill". Koestler has been derided in some quarters for that idea, but I doubt critics will have a pop at Hawking, because he's widely regarded as the cleverest bloke alive.

What has changed in the intervening years is that the threats have increased, a whole load more countries have nukes, there's climate change and the danger that genetic engineering could release something very nasty indeed are the ones Hawking mentions. You don't have to think too long to add to that list.

His hope:
The long-term survival of the human race will be safe only if we spread out into space, and then to other stars. This won't happen for at least 100 years so we have to be very careful.
The problem here is that, as others have pointed out, unless we change our attitudes, all we'll do is export our mess to other planets. In one of the most popular works of science fiction ever, Star Trek, the humans and their chums were trying to explore the universe for completely altruistic motives and, for some people, therein lies the appeal. But you have to note, they'd sorted themselves out first (though I seem to remember they hinted at a devastating war humanity had survived).


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