Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Next 1,000 Years

Stephen Hawking thinks we have a millennium on this planet. This is old news; Mound wrote about it a almost a year ago, but it's making the round again (here and here and here and here) largely because he spoke about it at Oxford recently.
I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as a sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers. 
If we keep going at this rate, I'm not convinced we have nearly that long. But he wants to put all our eggs in one bucket: “I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go to space.”

I think he puts the deadline so far away in order to ensure we keep funding the work. It's a long process to get there:
However, we will not establish self-sustaining colonies in space for at least the next hundred years, so we have to be very careful in this period.
So, three things I don't understand about this. First, moving away won't stop our malicious nature that enables us to build weapons capable of destroying huge populations at once. It reminds me of my attempt to solve some friend issues as a teenage by changing cities, and then ending up with an identical group of friends in the new place. It's a ridiculously short-sighted solution for such a brilliant man.


Secondly, if over-population is the tipping point that requires a new setting, that's not going to stop in our new digs. We need to find a way to curb reproduction. It has to start with new way of looking at childbearing as a choice rather than an inevitability. Working towards building an addition will only exacerbate the problem, allowing us to believe that soon we'll have more room to spread out.

And finally, the most baffling part: how does it make sense to build a space station on a planet with an unbreathable atmosphere instead of just building some on our planet before it's completely uninhabitable. Well, it's not really that confusing if you spend a minute imaging what it will look like deciding who gets to live there. If access to space shuttles is the only way to decide who gets to go, then the decision will be entirely financially-driven, and maybe they'll throw in a few lotteries so the masses feel included. They'll need some labourers up there too. If we stay here, and build some cool sustainable bio-domes that don't fit everyone, then we'll have to make some hard choices and live with the reality of some people being left to suffer right outside the door. That could end up as a fight to the finish if the elites aren't savvy enough to manage the transition with them on top.
The 74-year-old professor ended his speech by encouraging university students to “stay curious” and reminding them to “look up to the stars and not down at your feet.”
If we look up too much, we're going to miss what's going on around us. And then we won't make it another hundred years.

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