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Most threats to humans come from science and technology, warns Hawking

Speaking ahead of his BBC Reith Lecture on black holes, Stephen Hawking discusses the danger inherent in progress and the chances of disaster on Earth

 

 
 Stephen Hawking’s Reith Lecture will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 9am on 26th January and 2nd February. Photograph: BBC

The human race faces one its most dangerous centuries yet as progress in science and technology becomes an ever greater threat to our existence, Stephen Hawking warns.

The chances of disaster on planet Earth will rise to a near certainty in the next one to ten thousand years, the eminent cosmologist said, but it will take more than a century to set up colonies in space where human beings could live on among the stars.

“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,” Hawking said. His comments echo those of Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, who raised his own concerns about the risks of self-annihilation in his 2003 book Our Final Century.

Speaking to the Radio Times ahead of the BBC Reith Lecture, in which he will explain the science of black holes, Hawking said most of the threats humans now face come from advances in science and technology, such as nuclear weapons and genetically engineered viruses.

“We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we must recognise the dangers and control them,” he added.

The Cambridge scientist, who turned 74 earlier this month, said his expectations were reduced to zero when he learned he had a rare and slowly progressing form of motor neurone disease at the age of 21. But reflecting on more than 50 years since the diagnosis, he said he had been very fortunate in almost every other way. In Hawking’s area of theoretical physics, his disability was not a major handicap.

Asked what kept his spirits up, he named his work and sense of humour. “It’s also important not to become angry, no matter how difficult life is, because you can lose all hope if you can’t laugh at yourself and at life in general.”

For thirty years Hawking was Lucasian professor of mathematics, a post once held by Isaac Newton, and one of the most prestigious academic positions in the country. But Hawking said he felt closer to Galileo Galilei, the 16th century astronomer, who overturned the received wisdom of his time with rigorous observations. Given a time machine, Hawking named Galileo as the scientist he would travel back in time to meet. 

Hawking was forced to postpone the recording of the Reith Lecture in November due to poor health. But on 7 January, a day before his birthday, he delivered the talk on black holes, and the fate of information that falls inside them, to a 400-strong audience at the Royal Institution (Ri) in Mayfair, London.



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As does most progress. In the last 70 years the world has statistically become more peaceful, and we have had the capability to destroy ourselves throughout that time frame, which I know is a blip in human history but it's something. Some people would argue we're currently going through the "great filter" phase of civilizations, atomic bombs being the start of it and developments in AI being the next hurdle.



Stick to physics, clearly you know next to nothing about computer science.



RadiantDanceMachine said:

Stick to physics, clearly you know next to nothing about computer science.

 

How does computer science play into this?  Am I missing something?



This so much!



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This. I've saying it for a while... we'll be the ones to end ourselves.



Bet with Teeqoz for 2 weeks of avatar and sig control that Super Mario Odyssey would ship more than 7m on its first 2 months. The game shipped 9.07m, so I won

Heh, I just had a funny idea today before even reading about this. I read something else though, and it gave me some funny ideas. Namely, I think there's a fair chance that once technology evolves sufficiently, we'll get Deus Ex and start implanting stuff to improve ourselves. Sooner or later we'll all be practically some sort of cyborgs, and at some point we're probably bound to start augmenting our brains as well. That's a slippery slope, and at some point we could reach a situation where there's more machine than human in us, and we'd have replaced ourselves by robots - voluntarily, all by ourselves (with possible help from the robots we created).

Of course it'll be a long time before we reach that point, and there's other ways things could go too. But that way seems, eh, natural. I almost feel like we should actively take steps to prevent that if we don't want it, because with the constant urge to improve, it'll be hard to resist such easy improvements.

RadiantDanceMachine said:

Stick to physics, clearly you know next to nothing about computer science.

He's not referring to computer science alone. And assuming you're referring to AI, it's a real threat at the very least until development evolves quite significantly to reduce the number of programming mistakes (i.e. bugs). With the current ways of  development, producing bugs, even dangerous ones, is dangerously easy. And that's not even the only way things could go wrong with AI. Personally I'm not foreseeing any concrete threats in AI development but acknowledging that the risks are there is important.



Isn't this obvious? Really, am I the only one that was a kid and realized "hey, humans are quite scary. we'll probably end up killing ourselves".


If we don't end up successfully colonizing a different place, I wouldn't mind. Humans have created quite the amount of destruction. Let nature take the tide and do what it wants



 

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12/22/2016- Made a bet with Ganoncrotch that the first 6 months of 2017 will be worse than 2016. A poll will be made to determine the winner. Loser has to take a picture of them imitating their profile picture.

Genetically engineered viruses are a legitimate threat, as they cannot be controlled, especially in the hands off nutjobs like kim or ISIS

RadiantDanceMachine said:

Stick to physics, clearly you know next to nothing about computer science.

dat reading comprehension tho.





akhmenhawk said:
RadiantDanceMachine said:

Stick to physics, clearly you know next to nothing about computer science.

dat reading comprehension tho.



 

Nah. Troll.