Stephen Hawking has said that humanity could wipe itself out warning that there is a high chance of a disaster occurring on Earth in the next millennia and that these dangers are of our own making.
Hawking, in his first BBC Reith Lecture, which will be aired on Jan. 26, pointed out that nuclear war, genetically engineered viruses and global warming could increase the odds of a planetary disaster.
Global warming has been linked to extreme weather events and rising of sea level that could make some regions of the planet inhabitable in the future. Genetically engineered viruses and nuclear war, on the other hand, can potentially wipe out populations.
The renowned astrophysicist also gave grim warnings about the future of artificial intelligence in the past. Hawking feared about advances in artificial intelligence that could lead to these machines turning against humanity, a concern shared by other prominent figures which include SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
A terminator-like era could ensue if the fears of those who raise concern about artificial intelligence become reality. AI and autonomous weapons such as armed quadcopters can eliminate people with certain predefined criteria and these can potentially cause significant disasters if they go haywire.
Hawking said that while science and technology has improved many lives, progress in this field is a gamble as it also introduces a means that could end humanity.
The scientist, however, remained optimistic about the future of humanity. Hawking said that humans will likely survive the disaster that will befall Earth within the next 1,000 to 10,000 because, by this time, they may have already colonized other worlds.
He pointed out though that mankind will not be able to establish self-sustaining colonies in space over the next hundred years so it is empirical to be careful during this period. He said that we need to focus our efforts on space exploration and spreading possibly beyond the solar system.
"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," Hawking said. "We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we have to recognize the dangers and control them. I'm an optimist, and I believe we can."