Science

Before Stephen Hawking died, he made a chilling doomsday prediction

Originally published as: Stephen Hawking updates his Doomsday prediction…and it’s not looking good for humanity

Stephen Hawking’s passing is a tragic loss for humanity, but he didn’t leave us empty-handed.

In what had become a bit of a morbid running joke, the renowned physicist was known for one of his favourite pastimes: doomsday predictions.

His final doomsday prediction came in November 2017, and it’s not looking good for humanity.

Hawking’s flirtation with oblivion began back in 2015 when he mentioned in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session that AI might wipe us all out and that contacting aliens is probably a bad idea.

Then, November 2016, he gave us about 1,000 years to leave Earth.

By May 2017, he had decided that 1,000 was a bit generous and reduced it to just 100 years.

But before Hawking passed away, he made one final prediction: that the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) could be catastrophic unless we find a way to harness it.

By making his thoughts on AI clear, Hawking joined Elon Musk as one of the Very Smart People who saw the potential of AI but also cautioned that we must be ready for it.

“Unless we learn how to prepare for, and avoid, the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization,” he said at the Web Summit technology conference in Portugal.

“It brings dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It could bring great disruption to our economy.”

Hawking later explained that he is “an optimist” that believes we can create AI for the good of the world.

Fingers crossed that AI knows how to stop the planet getting hotter.

In a talk at the Tencent WE Summit in Beijing, Hawking said that Earth will become a ball of fire by 2600 – so the best thing we can do is start making plans to leave Earth immediately.

He thought that the best way to do this will be via Breakthrough Starshot, a plan to get a nanocraft probe to Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years.

That same probe could get to Mars in less than an hour and Pluto in days, he explained.

Getting a probe there is one thing, moving us there is a much different story.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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