Science’s brightest star made discoveries that changed the way the scientific community thought about the cosmos and our place in it. But it was his outspokenness on life back on Earth that made him a pop culture icon.
Hawking used his household name to deftly communicate any topic under the sun. The global media was more than happy to give him a platform, often hanging on his every word.
Those in the scientific community sometimes felt differently. Prof. Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, told the ‘BBC’
that “a downside of his iconic status was that his comments attracted exaggerated attention even on topics where he had no special expertise – for instance philosophy, or the dangers from aliens or from intelligent machines.” Most would argue that it was this very ability to connect with the public that inspired millions around the world and put science in the spotlight.
The Australian edition of ‘Business Insider’
presented some of Hawking’s musings on topics beyond the scope of his expertise.
Hawking believed that we should hold back on trying to contact intelligent alien civilisations, fearing that it could put us and Earth at great risk. The reasoning is that a distant alien civilisation might view humanity as inferior, weak and ideal to conquer. “As I grow older I am more convinced than ever that we are not alone.” He warned that if signs of life are found, “we should be wary of answering back.”
Hawking thought that creating thinking machines could pose a threat to our very existence. He gave a dark and depressing answer about AI’s prospects in an interview in 2014: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”
He did tone down the rhetoric somewhat. “Artificial intelligence might prove to be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity,” he said at a lecture at the University of Cambridge. This fear comes from the fact that AI has the power to learn for itself, potentially surpassing our human abilities. “[Artificial intelligence] would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn''t compete, and would be superseded.”
The future of the human race
We as humans have only about 1 000 years left, Hawking predicted during a 2016 speech. He believed our only option was to find another planet to live on. Advances in science and technology are almost certain to spell disaster on Earth in the next thousand or ten thousand years. This news shouldn’t be worrisome though. By then, we’ll be living somewhere out there. So, what are the four ways the world could see its demise, according to Hawking? Nuclear warfare, global warming, man-made viruses and robots.
The greatest mystery of them all
In 2015, Hawking gave a surprising answer when asked what mystery he found most intriguing, and why. He’s completely baffled by women. “My PA reminds me that although I have a PhD in physics, women should [sic] remain a mystery.”