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Tue May 24 17:47:43 SAST 2016

Hawking: Disaster a 'near certainty'

©The Daily Telegraph | 20 January, 2016 00:39
"We face a number of threats: nuclear war, global warming and genetically engineered viruses," Hawking told the Radio Times ahead of his BBC Reith Lecture. File photo
Image by: NEIL HALL / REUTERS

Professor Stephen Hawking says a disaster on Earth within the next 1000 or 10,000 years is a "near certainty".

The cosmologist said genetically engineered viruses, nuclear war and global warming all threatened to wipe out the human race in the foreseeable future.

He argued that unstoppable developments in science and technology were likely to prove the biggest danger, adding that the human race may only be able to survive in colonies on other planets in the solar system.

"We face a number of threats: nuclear war, global warming and genetically engineered viruses," Hawking told the Radio Times ahead of his BBC Reith Lecture.

"Although the chance of a disaster on planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, to a near certainty in the next 1000 or 10,000 years.

"By that time we should have spread out into space, and to other stars, so it would not mean the end of the human race.

"However, we will not establish self-sustaining colonies in space for at least the next 100 years, so we have to be very careful in this period."

Hawking has previously spoken of the dangers inherent in the rise of artificial intelligence and has called for global agreements to prevent robots from becoming uncontrollable.

He added: "Most of the threats we face come from the progress we've made in science and technology.

"We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we must recognise the dangers and control them.

"I'm an optimist, and I believe that we can."

Hawking was responding to a question from a schoolboy who wanted to know whether the world was likely to end at the hand of humans or from a natural disaster.

"Science and technology are changing our world dramatically, so it's important that we ensure that these changes are heading in the right directions," said Hawking.

"In a democratic society this means that everyone needs to have a basic understanding of science, to make informed decisions about the future."

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