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Stephen Hawking: Earth could be 'ball of fire' in 600 years

The renowed physicist tells a Beijing gathering that overcrowding and increased energy consumption could doom Earth.

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Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, generational studies. Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper

Better cancel any plans you've made for the year 2617 -- renowned physicist Stephen Hawking thinks we Earthlings could all be toast by then.

Hawking made a video appearance at the 2017 Tencent WE Summit in Beijing on Sunday, and warned that overcrowding and increased energy consumption could bring a fiery end to our world. The end would come in a "ball of fire," USA Today quotes Hawking as saying. 

To save itself, mankind must take a cue from Star Trek and "boldly go where no one has gone before," he said in the appearance. 

Hawking sees an answer in Breakthrough Starshot, the $100 million research and engineering program announced in 2016. Hawking and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg sit on the project's board.

"The idea behind this innovation is to have the nanocraft ride on the light beam," he said of the interstellar space travel program. "Such a system could reach Mars in less than an hour, or reach Pluto in days, pass Voyager in under a week and reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years."

Hawking's on a roll with the grim futuristic predictions. On Monday, in another video speech, he declared that effective artificial intelligence "could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst."