Stephen Hawking Issues A Wake Up Call

It has been argued that the greatest reason our species should explore space and colonize other planets is so that a cataclysmic fate won’t be able to claim all of humanity. That is the driving force behind Elon Musk’s plan to colonize Mars. And it has certainly been the driving point behind Stephen Hawking’s belief that humanity should become an interplanetary-species.

And according to Hawking, becoming interplanetary is something of a time-sensitive issue. During a recent speech presented at the Oxford Union Society (Oxford University’s prestigious debating society) Hawking laid it out plainly for the audience. Humanity has 1000 years to locate and colonize new planets, he claimed, or we will likely go extinct.

For almost 200 years, the Oxford Union Society has been a forum for intellectual debate. In the past, it has also hosted such speakers as the Dalai Lama, Stephen Fry, Morgan Freeman, Richard Dawkins, and Buzz Aldrin. On this occasion, Hawking addressed a crowd of students and professors about space exploration and humanity’s future – two subjects he’s well versed in!

Stephen Hawking is a major proponent for colonizing other worlds, mainly to ensure humanity does not go extinct. Credit:
Stephen Hawking is a major proponent for colonizing other worlds, mainly to ensure humanity does not go extinct. Credit:

As Hawking made clear, humanity faces a number of existential threats, many of which are going to become a serious problem during the 21 century century. These include, but are not limited to, the threat of Climate Change, nuclear holocaust, terrorism, and the rise of artificial intelligence. The solution, Hawking argued, is to get into space and establish colonies as soon as possible.

As he was quoted as saying by the Christian Science Monitor, this will need to take place within the next 1000 years:

“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 1,000 or 10,000 years. 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.”

This was not the first time Hawking has expressed concerns about the future. In January of 2015, Hawking joined Elon Musk and many other AI experts to pen the “Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence” – aka. the “Open Letter on Artificial Intelligence”. In this letter, he and the other signatories raised concerns about the short-term and long-term implications of AI, and urged that steps be taken to address them.

President Barack Obama talks with Stephen Hawking in the Blue Room of the White House before a ceremony presenting him and 15 others the Presidential Medal of Freedom, August 12, 2009. The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama talks with Stephen Hawking in the Blue Room of the White House before a ceremony presenting him and 15 others the Presidential Medal of Freedom on August 12th, 2009. Credit: Souza

In addition, back in January of 2016, Hawking warned that humanity’s technological progress has the power to outstrip us. This occurred during his speech at the 2016 Leith Lectures, where Hawking spoke about black holes and why they are fascinating. During the Q&A period that followed, Hawking turned to the much more dour subject of whether or not humanity has a future. As he said at the time:

“We face a number of threats to our survival, from nuclear war, catastrophic global warming, and genetically engineered viruses. The number is likely to increase in the future, with the development of new technologies, and new ways things can go wrong. 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. Most of the threats we face come from the progress we have made in science and technology. We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we have to recognize the dangers and control them. I am an optimist, and I believe we can.”

Similarly, Hawking indicated back in 2010 that humanity’s survival beyond the next century would require that we become a space-faring race. In an interview with Big Think, Hawking claimed the odds of humanity making it to the 22nd century was bad enough for a single-planet species, let alone the 31st:

“I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let’s hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load.”

Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) 70-metric-ton configuration launching to space. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. Credit: NASA/MSFC
Hawking has repeatedly advocated space exploration and colonization as a way of ensuring humanity’s survival. Credit: NASA/MSFC

But before anyone gets all gloomy, it should be noted that between our plans to colonize Mars, and the success of the Kepler mission, we have found hundreds of planets that could serve as potential homes for humanity. But as Hawking has stated in the past, we will need at least 100 years to develop all the necessary technologies to build colonies on even the closest of these planets (Mars).

Beyond our survival as a species, Professor Hawking also advocates space travel as a way of improving humanity’s understanding of itself. This was made evident in a direct quote that the Union live-tweeted during the speech, in which he said: “We must continue exploring space in order to improve our knowledge of humanity. We must go beyond our humble planet.”

And as he has done so often before, Hawking ended his speech on an optimistic note. According to the Independent, he wrapped up his Oxford lecture with the following words of advice:

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

It seems we have our work cut out for us. Extra-terrestrial and/or extra-solar colonies by 3016… or bust!

Further Reading: Oxford Mail, CS Monitor, Independent

12 Replies to “Stephen Hawking Issues A Wake Up Call”

  1. I would 100% agree except we are looking for solutions in all the wrong places when we look within our own solar system. If the end of humanity comes from political strife, there would be 100% chance that any colony within our solar system will be targeted for destruction too. And who says any in solar system colonies will be 100% self sufficient to the point they could build their own rockets to return to Earth after Earth becomes livable again? Delaying death is still death.

    We would have to have huge colony ships that could establish life aboard them. They would in turn be sent towards viable planets in our galactic neighborhood to start life and exist without Earth’s interaction. Maybe even capable of return at some future date.

  2. I have zero interest in the survival of humanity if it means a handful of colonists survive while billions perish. We’d do way better focusing our attention and abilities on our one planet and its denizens.

    Colonizing planets also means a 100% long term certainty of interplanetary war. It may not look so clever by then.

    1. War is just one of the things that could wipe us out. Moving off the planet would prevent other catastrophes that cannot self-propel themselves off the planet such as a plague, rogue nuclear attack, terminator-like AI takeover, global climate catastrophe or a comet strike.

  3. The problem is that we are not acting as a collective human species. We already have Black Budget space programs far, far in excess of what we conventionally see with NASA. I firmly believe humans have already colonized the Moon, Mars, and probably even visited other star systems. Multiple whistleblowers have come forward to confirm such technology exists, but we will never see it as the public.

    And if that weren’t bad enough, I believe our current public space programs are intentionally being stalled, to even prevent known progress, and colonization through official public channels.

    I respect the intent of Dr. Hawking’s message, but believe we are already to this step. The problem is that it will not be shared by all humans.

    1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Comments like this will cause others to call your sanity into question.

      1. There’s a number of highly reputable figures that have come out with such information. Here is one such account from Ben Rich, former CEO of Lockheed-Martin’s prestigious “Skunk Works.”

        We have similar accounts from John Lear, former Area 51 physicist Boyd Bushman- who had almost 30 patents to his name- and even the granddaughter of Dwight Eisenhower herself. Just because these stories don’t make the evening news doesn’t mean they aren’t happening.

        And keep in mind, Greg, 500 years ago, anyone daring to claim the Sun was at the center of our solar system would’ve had their “sanity” questioned as well…

      2. Thanks for the link, I read through it. It sounds like a tall tale from an old sailor. There is no coherent theme about it that fits together to make any sense and worse yet none of it can be verified independently. While it may be extraordinary evidence, I should have specified that I meant extraordinarily good evidence. It does not meet my minimum standard of convincing me that an extraordinary claim is the truth, as I am trained and still practice as a scientist. I realize that those who are enamoured with conspiracy theories have a lower threshold than this for being convinced of the truth, but it serves a purpose that when I say something or try to publish something that there is a much greater chance that it will be accepted and regarded as accurate.

      3. Maybe it’s just me but hearsay in rarely accepted as evidence in a court of law let alone some extraordinary claims that manned interplanetary travel has occurred without anyone in the world detecting a “secret” chemical rocket launch of that magnitude…

  4. Let’s try again. It makes me think about where we can go hopping from star to star? What’s a higher meaning of it. To survive and be happy?

  5. “It does not meet my minimum standard of convincing me that an extraordinary claim is the truth, as I am trained and still practice as a scientist.”

    Greg, I wasn’t aware that a response in an article message board needed to adhere to such high standards. Unfortunately, your dismissive response is actually the antithesis of true science, which requires objective looks at all phenomena, rather than preconceived notions.

    Sometimes, the secret is hidden in plain sight, and people don’t even realize it’s there. Here is an article from the NSA’s own website, in which one of their leading cryptologists lectures on trying to decode messages received from other civilizations already:

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