These are some of the final thoughts from one of the greatest minds to ever grace planet Earth, the iconic cosmologist Stephen Hawking.
Hawking’s final book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, released today, is a collection of articles and essays written before his death in March this year. As ever, he doesn’t shy away from tough questions.
Excerpts from the book, published by The Sunday Times, show Hawking confronting some of the biggest questions facing humanity today, from the existence of God and the possibility of an afterlife to extraterrestrial life and the threat of artificial intelligence.
“One way or another, I regard it as almost inevitable that either a nuclear confrontation or environmental catastrophe will cripple the Earth at some point in the next 1,000 years,” he mused. “By then I hope and believe that our ingenious race will have found a way to slip the surly bonds of Earth and will therefore survive the disaster.”
However, as he eloquently points out, there are many threats to dodge before this becomes a reality, from asteroid collisions to the rise of artificial intelligence. Much has been made about these looming threats, but Hawking also brings up a less-discussed topic: the ominous rise of “superhumans” created using gene-editing tools like CRISPR-Cas9.
“There is no time to wait for Darwinian evolution to make us more intelligent and better natured,” he writes.“[W]e are now entering a new phase of what might be called self-designed evolution, in which we will be able to change and improve our DNA.”
“Once such superhumans appear, there are going to be significant political problems with the unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” he added.
“Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving themselves at an ever-increasing rate. If the human race manages to redesign itself, it will probably spread out and colonize other planets and stars.”
On the existence of God, Hawking offered up another question. “The question is, is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can’t understand, or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second. If you like, you can call the laws of science ‘God’, but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you would meet and put questions to.”
Despite being a life-long atheist, Hawking is of course interred at Westminster Abbey in Science Corner, alongside luminaries such as Darwin and Newton.
Reflecting on other big changes that could help humanity, such as climate change, he had many solutions.
“This is easy,” he wrote. “[T]he development of fusion power to give an unlimited supply of clean energy, and a switch to electric cars. Nuclear fusion would become a practical power source and would provide us with an inexhaustible supply of energy, without pollution or global warming.”
Though he may have departed this mortal plane, he’s not done making predictions and offering bold solutions about the future of humanity, it would appear. And we shouldn’t stop listening to him, either.