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Earth Science Technology

Hawking Says Scientific Progress Is Major Source of New Threats To Humanity 235

HughPickens.com writes: BBC reports that according to Stephen Hawking most of the threats humans now face come from advances in science and technology, including nuclear war, global warming and genetically-engineered viruses. "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," said Hawking in answer to a question during the BBC Reith Lectures. "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. 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."

During his lecture Hawking also answered a question on whether his synthesized electronic voice had shaped his personality, perhaps allowing the introvert to become an extrovert. Replying that he had never been called an introvert before, Hawking added: "Just because I spend a lot of time thinking doesn't mean I don't like parties and getting into trouble."
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Hawking Says Scientific Progress Is Major Source of New Threats To Humanity

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  • He's Not Qualified (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mothlos ( 832302 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @02:06PM (#51330653)

    The guy is a brilliant theoretical physicist and a celebrity scientist, but this in no way makes him an authority in the social implications of scientific discovery.

    • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @02:20PM (#51330787) Homepage

      What does make a person qualified? It seems like it's the sort of thing a layman can think about. I don't need to be an expert in any particular field to have my opinions on the value of nuclear weapons to be justified. Certainly some people's opinions are more valid than others, but you should be able to have views on a field without having a PhD in that particular field.

      There are some topics where having a PhD might not help at all.

      • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

        It might be better to say that he's as qualified as anyone else to make an assessment, but he's getting time in periodicals to discuss something he's not an expert on because he's perceived to be an expert in something else, and his reputation has bled over.

        For instance, I would like to believe that we'll have moved at least some of humanity off the planet in the next 10,000 years, but at this point, nothing suggests that this is actually going to happen. That we have the capability to do so is not really

      • by Falos ( 2905315 )
        Compared to the last hundred thousand years, the last ten thousand were dramatic for homo sapiens and Earth.

        The last two thousand years. One thousand. One hundred. Fifty years ago. Twenty. Any layman can see it.

        Technology. Population. Global effects. Scale of other effects, including those caused by a single human. Increased communication has sent cultural propagation/drift to shorter and shorter cycles. Most humans lived one way their whole life (not just technologically) and we've had the privilege
      • by antdude ( 79039 )

        I am qualified. :P

    • Say what? Next you'll be telling me that belting out catchy ditties doesn't make Bono an expert on agro-economics.

    • The guy is a brilliant theoretical physicist and a celebrity scientist, but this in no way makes him an authority in the social implications of scientific discovery.

      I don't know. How qualified does he have to be? He just has to be able to detect this pattern:

      1. Scientists discover something new and exciting about physics, chemistry, biology, computing, or psychology.

      2. Military organizations pounce on the new discovery, ostensibly to further their explicit mission to outcompete other militaries. In doing so, of course, they also kill, wound, displace, or otherwise negatively affect a lot of civilians.

      3. Meanwhile, unscrupulous governments attempt to use the advance

      • by mothlos ( 832302 )

        Aren't we all qualified to see where this is going?

        In the same sense that we are all qualified to have opinions about the 2007-9 financial crisis or we were all qualified to have opinions about how to respond to the recent ebola outbreak. It's not that he shouldn't have opinions on the subject, it is that he is not worthy of special attention for these opinions.

    • by Tx ( 96709 )

      The headline takes what he said out of context a little, and makes it seem like some kind of pompous pronouncement. He was answering a question, and while it's not clear from TFA exactly what the question was, it seems perfectly likely that what he said is a reasonable answer. What he seems to be saying is that while in the long term, science and technology will give our species survival advantages by dint of allowing us to spread to other planets or into space, and thus not have all our eggs in one basket,

    • It's not that; the statement is so obvious it's stupid. Where else would new threats come from? Aliens? Asteroids? The sun exploding?

    • Someone please mod parent up. It's really the only reasonable interpretation of this.
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Well, so what? What he's saying should hardly be controversial. As technologies make humans more powerful, it has made them more dangerous to themselves. Why would you expect otherwise?

      Note that he's quite vague about what he means by "threat to humanity", which also puts him on fairly safe ground. I personally don't think that humans are quite capable of extinguishing life on the planet yet, given the adaptability of life. In fact given human behavioral adaptability I don't even think we're capable of d

      • Modern humans have existed for about 2000 years and there is exactly one human institution that has lasted for more than 1% of that time: the monarchy of Japan.

        What? 1% of 2000 years is 20 years. Even my homeowners association has been around longer than that. Not to mention, say, the Catholic Church.

      • I don't even think we're capable of driving ourselves to extinction

        Apparently you're not aware that all it would take to wipe us out would be for us to stop maintaining the cooling systems of a portion of the world's reactors...

    • The guy is a brilliant theoretical physicist and a celebrity scientist, but this in no way makes him an authority in the social implications of scientific discovery.

      Oh, I don't know. I'm sure keen to find out his picks for The Oscars.

    • Most famous bullshitter in the world, indeed. Someone can remove Hawking synthesizer's battery for the sake of humanity?
  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @02:10PM (#51330697)

    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," said Hawking ...

    Pretty sure "the planet" will be fine no matter. Humans on the other hand ... It would also be disappointing for the huge, wonderful variety of plants and animals that share this planet with us to suffer because of our carelessness or apathy.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    From the invention to the bow and arrow to the trebuchet (piling on the plague bodies as ammunition) to the first nuclear bomb. Why? Because humanity continually builds tools that extend our reach, to give us abilities beyond our natural and current technological abilities.

    Still, I think we will end on the mundane, the species exhausting resources on earth, rather than an extraordinary bang. Bangs we can survive, and even thrive. The exhaustion, otoh, comes from lack of planning and foresight. If anyth

  • Completely off topic, but am I the only one annoyed by the Slashdot quote today at the bottom of the page? Are they trolling, or did they purposely print that misquote? lol What would Ash say about this? ;-)

    "Gort, klaatu nikto barada." -- The Day the Earth Stood Still

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @02:24PM (#51330827)

    Humanity will be quite capable of exterminating itself in space as well. What is needed is a spiritual and religious revival where men actually fear the eternal consequences of their actions again. Religion will be what saves us from this because only religion can provide the eternal carrot and stick necessary to not only make most people behave, but incentivize them to regulate with civility those who won't in ways that endanger the public.

  • First point: this is a rare reference to Steven H as "a party animal". Rock the Symposium!
    I am perplexed by some of the responses to this article. Steven Hawkins is "unqualified to comment" on the future of our species? Why? Because "no one would care if he weren't in a wheelchair'?
    Would that there were an automated Moron Filter. (Chrome/Firefox snap-in, anyone?)

    I too am hopeful for the future of our species on this planet, but not optimistic. I agree with the expressed opinion that this is a partic

  • "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. 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."

    Establishing just one colony in space that is self-sustaining and able to expand without Earth in the next century is extremely optimistic, even if humanity decided to focus its productive power on it like a global Apollo program. Given the scope of the task, I think millennia is a more reasonable timescale for such an endeavor. And as an aside, if we are able to focus on just one task, maybe world peace or an end to global warming would be better tasks?

  • by wkwilley2 ( 4278669 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @02:51PM (#51331089)

    To quote the late, great Bill Hicks, "We're a virus with shoes"

  • by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @02:54PM (#51331111)

    Both introverts and extroverts like being around people and doing interesting things. The main difference between introverts and extroverts is the way they recharge. Introverts recharge by being alone while extroverts recharge by being with people. This is a general statement that applies to most people.

  • by Dave Sanford ( 2884367 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @04:57PM (#51332087)
    Galantai proposes an alternative to the Kardashev scale that focuses on survival of the species. The short version is that if we can survive the destruction of the planet we are at one level, survive solar system destruction at least another level up, without detailing the kinds of events that would make multiple star systems unlivable - there are levels above that. These are links to the Galantai scale stuff: http://www.centauri-dreams.org... [centauri-dreams.org] http://mono.eik.bme.hu/~galant... [eik.bme.hu]
  • Extrapolate far enough into the future fantastic technologies, which become more and more potentially dangerous and eventually you can say it will blow up X.

    House/Village/City/Country/World/Solar System/Galaxy/Universe/etc...

  • Scientific progress may provide the big new threats to humanity, but it's also provided more or less all the ADVANCEMENTS enjoyed by humanity as well, such as most of your kids not dying before age 2, or being able to survive that paper-cut infection. Dentistry.

    I have no doubt that if you could mass the ongoing, sustained (and really compounding) science benefits to humanity vs the new dangers it's created, the benefits win handily.

    In fact, taking the population as a handy shorthand, just now benefits outw

  • Did he also speculate that water is wet? Or that fire is hot?

    Nothing against Steve here, but his observation is obvious knowledge. The more we progress in tech, science, etc. the more new and creative ways we'll find to kill each other. It's been that way since cavemen first discovered that you can sharpen a stick, and I don't expect it to change anytime soon either.

    That said, we're finding equally new and creative ways to survive as well. From advances in medicine to sanitation and energy production, we'

    • by Junta ( 36770 )

      Yes, that's a key thing, whether the benefit has outpaced the elevated risk. Considering how much better nutrition, medicine, shelter/climate control, food production, transportation, commucation are, it's pretty good in aggregate.

      Global warming is the most likely critical risk. More progress is helping us be able to potentially turn things back, if we are aggressive enough.

      For nuclear weapons, it's easy to see how much higher the stakes are, and how terrible the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was.

  • by tsa ( 15680 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 @03:39AM (#51334405) Homepage

    Why is it so important to preserve the human race? We keep wiping ourselves out: many great civilizations have perished because all the available land was used up for food. Now we are able to make our whole planet uninhabitable for ourselves, and quote a long way on our way to doing exactly that. We are unsustainable and we should therefore die out. And besides, after you're dead, what does it matter to you what happens to humanity?

    • by abies ( 607076 )

      We might be only intelligent beings in universe. There is a reasonable probability there won't be a second chance for developing high technology civilization on Earth, even if new intelligent species will evolved in hundred million years, due to available of easy accessible metals and fossil fuels. It would mean that when humanity dies out, there won't be a sentience ever again in universe.

      This is depressing thought. Indeed, if you are strong subscriber to "après nous, le déluge", it doesn't matte

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