Stephen Hawking and Sci-Fi again? Tick Tock...The Nuclear Clock, or bad aliens, or what?
“Nuclear weapons need large facilities, but genetic engineering can be done in a small lab. You can’t regulate every lab in the world. The danger is that either by accident or design, we create a virus that destroys us.”
Okay, so Covid seems to have failed to have won the prize, but let's dig a little deeper into the mind of Hawking. It's almost like a one-stop shop for extinction causes. Namely, nuclear holocaust, viruses, climate change, and overpopulation, to name a few.
Radiation Warning Sign at Chernobyl
The use of nuclear weapons seems to be the sci-fi concern of those fearing a dystopian future. Hawking was not shy about making this one of his "end of humanity" possible scenarios.
"Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no nuclear weapons have been used in war, though the world has come uncomfortably close to disaster on more than one occasion," Prof Hawking said, "But for good luck, we would all be dead." - the Guardian, January 17, 2007
That was back in 2007! What would he say today, considering the devastation in Ukraine?
But that was just one end-of-the-world scenario that the professor mentioned. He also was very clear that viruses created in a lab could intentionally or accidentally finish us. That was a statement made prior to Covid, the future of which appears to be a roaming virus that may or may not weaken with every new strain. Multiple sources reveal that not all viruses mutate into a "weaker" state. According to the website Science.org, in 1950 a nasty rabbit (not Bugs Bunny), called the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), was an extreme menace in Australia and France. Scientists released a virus which did a good job thinning the population of these nasties, but the rabbits grew resistant. But then, something unexpected happened: the virus stood up to the challenge and became even more deadly.
I have to throw in a bit of sci-fi here, notably the series written by one of my inspirations, John Ringo. His books about an world-ending virus that creates zombies was a real hit. It is called the Black Tide Rising Series. The virus unleashed in that story is a synthesis of Rabies and another virus. It was created in a lab with devastating effects. I recommend it, if you haven't read it. Here's a link: https://www.amazon.com/Under-Graveyard-Black-Tide-Rising-ebook/dp/B00ELR01M0/
Anyway, Hawking zeroed in on more than just nukes and viruses. Apparently, or perhaps, the brilliant scientist spent some time thinking about the different ways we could finish ourselves off.
In 2018, CNBC reported that Hawking said in a BBC Documentary that we have 100 years to start populating other planets or we will face extinction. He cited Climate Change as a main culprit. He didn't mention only climate change. He specifically said, "With climate change, overdue asteroid strikes, epidemics and population growth, our own planet is increasingly precarious.”
In 2017 (mentioned in USA Today), he declared that the Earth could become a "ball of fire" in 600 years, and that if we are to survive as a species, we must begin space colonization almost immediately. In another quote, Hawking said that our attitude is one of “reckless indifference to our future on planet Earth.”
Don't forget asteroids. He stated previously that the asteroid called Apophis, the size of a large building, and moving at 28,000 mph, illustrates the fact that “The possibility of one of these wiping us out isn’t just the stuff of Hollywood disaster movies, the threat from asteroids is real."
Without being overly critical, I'm noticing a pattern here. Stephen Hawking identified multiple ways that we humans are going to buy the farm in the near future. As a Military Sci-Fi writer, www.booksbyblunt.com/books (Yes, that's a cheap plug for my own work. So click and buy to help me purchase food for my goldfish), the professor is giving us fodder on which to base our next story. Weber did it with Armageddon's Reef. Ringo, of course. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. This list of authors is a long one, including me. Mankind faces a desperate future is what fiction is made of.
THE BIG QUESTION: How much of Stephen Hawking's warnings are based on his own curious personality, and how much is real? We've mentioned nukes, viruses, global warming, and asteroids; what about aliens?
Yes, aliens are a threat in the mind of Hawking:
"If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans." - Stephen Hawking
An astronomer at SETI (the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence), an organization that has been scanning the skies for many decades, disagrees. SETI has said that searching is not a risk. Interestingly, another space researcher (unnamed) said that we should not assume that aliens are peaceful and wise. And, he added, that if a ground station here on Earth does pinpoint the source of an intelligent signal from "out there," it should be kept secret. Why?
Because you don't want every capable dish antenna on the planet transmitting signals to aliens that could turn out to be a serious threat.
Finally, the above-listed global dangers are exceedingly tricky to mitigate. Human impact on preventing a disaster is limited. Nukes, viruses, global warming, asteroids? These things are almost beyond our ability to control. Aliens? It might be best to let Orson Scott Card deal with those guys.