Famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is in the news once again, and is continuing his increasingly outspokenness of pessimistic thoughts.This time he directly speaks out about the possibility of humans becoming extinct.
Hawking recently gave an interview with the website Big Think. He stated humans may have less than two centuries to figure out how to escape Earth and settle elsewhere to places literally out of this world. The astrophysicist states if human beings do not make significant strides to get off earth, they can become at risk for extinction. Hawking feels the future of human existence will be located in outer space.
Over the last several years Hawking has painted a few negative images, most recently in spring 2010 when he argued against searching for life in outer space. Back in 2006 Hawking warned the earth could be wiped out.
In his interview, Hawking outlines two types of catastrophes humans face, man-made and those beyond human control. In the first type of catastrophe Hawking talks about disasters brought on by our own decisions relating to environmental destruction or different kinds of chemical warfare. In the second scenario Hawking recounts unforeseen cosmic dangers (perhaps much like the scenario painted in the movie "Armageddon"?) and other types of celestial factors outside the control of humans on Earth.
Hawking states in his interview "It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million" and "Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward-looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space."
This is interesting since just recently in the spring Hawking argued against the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Now he is seemingly suggesting a move out to space where the possibility of other life remains. However, if his earlier theories ring true about avoiding other life forms which may not take a liking to human beings or their lifestyle could be problematic. This is because according to earlier theories, this could also lead to the end of life as we know it, including extinction. Sounds almost like a double edged sword.
Despite the negative connotations to his messages, Hawking stated "But I'm an optimist. If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries, our species should be safe, as we spread into space". (FOX News)
There is also the issue of exploring viable places where humans can live.
Thinking along these lines the big immediate problem would be how to get there. Technology has not yet progressed to the point of having capabilities to travel such vast distances. Not to mention pinpointing a viable place to live whether it be floating around in giant space ships ala "Wall-E" or actually settling on another planet. Then there would be the day to day issues of setting up house and resituating in new environmental conditions.
Whether or not any of this will occur remains to be seen. Technology is still going to continue to progress, but it will be human beings that will ultimately be doing the decision making as to where resources should be used and what kind of innovation is developed. Time is another factor. In the scheme of things 200 years is not very long, however look how far society has progressed on earth in that period of time, so much is possible.
Is it feasible for technology to expand beyond the Earth's immediate surroundings? Time will tell. However whatever the capabilities are, it is food for thought. Even if we cannot control the cosmic powers, we can control what we do here on Earth, thus eliminating, or at least reducing, one of Hawking's two gloomy scenarios.