Stephen Hawking: We're about to wipe ourselves out (but don't worry)

Technically Incorrect: In a UK lecture, the astrophysicist says the chances of a disaster on Earth are increasing. But we'll leave Earth anyway.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Stephen Hawking worries, but mostly about the next 100 years.


It's not hard to look at the world and worry.

We seem to learn little, repeat mistakes and generally act like selfish doofuses convinced of our intelligence, when our intelligence is actually telling us we're selfish doofuses.

This is something Stephen Hawking has been warning us about for some time. He worries that aliens might hate us and that artificial intelligence might decide we're superfluous.

The famed astrophysicist, however, tried to meld his pessimism with a trace optimism while answering audience questions after a lecture in London earlier this month.

As the BBC reported Tuesday, Hawking mused that we're really making a mess of things.

"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," he said.

So this really is the end of days. It's merely a matter of how many days.

The next thousand years doesn't seem so far away, especially as the prospect of us achieving eternal life seems to inch up slowly.

But here's the optimism: Hawking believes we should only really worry about the next 100 years.

You see, he believes that in a thousand years' 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 must come as a relief to many.

However, he said, "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." He specifically mentions nuclear war, genetically engineered viruses and global warming as among the chief threats to our existence.

Hawking is giving a series of talks, as part of the annual BBC Reith Lectures, that center on research into black holes. BBC radio is broadcasting the first part January 26 and the second on February 2.

We are entering the Hundred Years of Caution. We must elect leaders, therefore, who are mindful and responsible. They must not be the sort who would push the nuclear button just because someone has insulted them. They must gently guide us toward our ultimate exit to the Planet Plim and beyond.

We must also encourage Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Matt Damon to hurry along with their space exploration.

Hawking made clear that he really is an optimist. He does worry, however, that there isn't enough scientific knowledge in the world. He said that in a democratic society "everyone needs to have a basic understanding of science to make informed decisions about the future."

This then is his message to young scientists, the ones, presumably, who don't go to Silicon Valley just to "make the world a better place": "Communicate plainly what you are trying to do in science, and who knows, you might even end up understanding it yourself."

Understood, everyone? See you on Plim in 2116.