What Does Stephen Hawking Think about the Future of Humanity?

This summer, renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking will release a new BBC documentary entitled Stephen Hawking: Expedition New Earth, and embark on a series of public lectures. In the documentary, Hawking will warn that within the next century, humans need to find another planet that can sustain life, and colonize it -- or face extinction. In Hawking's opinion, the Earth is destined to become uninhabitable in the not-so-distant future, due to threats from climate change, deadly pandemics, asteroid strikes, increasingly rampant population growth, or even artificial intelligence. However, not everyone agrees that our planet is so imminently doomed -- other experts have assessed Hawking's newest timeline as overly pessimistic.

Catastrophic events that might occur:

  • Scientists say that the likelihood of Earth being hit by a deadly asteroid is small. However, the impact of an asteroid with a one-kilometer (.6-mile) diameter could fill the atmosphere with debris and block out the Sun for months.

  • Astronomers have seen powerful gamma ray bursts in distant galaxies, creating black holes and generating energy equivalent to hundreds of nuclear bombs.

  • The world’s largest supervolcano lies beneath Yellowstone National Park. An explosion, though unlikely, could be 10,000 times more powerful than the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980.

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Post 1

No asteroid detected yet, but we have a problem with calculating the effort to be expended warding off things with a very low likelihood of happening, but with catastrophic consequences if they do. Gamma ray bursts in distant galaxies are no threat to us.

Yellowstone caldera erupts periodically, none of which have been 10,000 times Mt. St. Helens; we are near the end of the ~640,000 year period - but these things are measured on geologic time - ten thousand years more or less is within the error bar, and impossible to plan for. Does Hawking need to adopt a more positive outlook?

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