Professor Hawking’s view on the apocalypse




The paper presents an overview of probable apocalypse scenarios from the point of view of modern scientists. According to their predictions, the ancient myth may become a reality even before the end of this millennium if humanity does not take actions to prevent the possible catastrophe. The purpose of our work is to analyze those world tendencies and areas of modern technology that, with uncontrolled development, can pose a threat to the existence of life on Earth. Stephen Hawking, the world-known theoretical physicist and cosmologist, was the first to raise the issue of the end of the world on a scientific level. The paper reviews materials from his public speeches and interviews, publications and projects that identify the potential dangers of the apocalypse, as well as initiatives taken by the scientist to save humanity. According to Hawking, one of the greatest threats is man-made artificial intelligence (AI). The theory of technological singularity states that AI develops much faster than the pace of biological evolution and can overtake humans within the next 100 years, and also it will be able to create and improve its own kind. The main problem nowadays is to design a reliable control system over AI. Hawking, along with tens of thousands of scientists and experts, has signed an open letter claiming it unacceptable to give artificial intelligence to military weapons. The use of autonomous AI arms poses a threat of uncontrollable warfare and is potentially more dangerous than nuclear warheads. Another threat is intrusion of a more advanced extraterrestrial civilization, as Hawking has warned. He has taken part in the launch of the Breakthrough Listen project monitoring space objects with powerful radio telescopes, but no intelligent alien signals have been detected so far. The more real problem is the climate change on Earth, with the unceasing trend of global warming, as evidenced by reports from the World Meteorological Organization. The accelerating tendency of the greenhouse gases emission can make the Earth's climate similar to Venus. Therefore, the most urgent requirements for all branches of science and engineering are the search for new environmental technologies. No less dangerous are genetically engineered viruses. Development of biological weapons, genetic modifications of viruses can get out of control and destroy human immunity. Viruses evolve even without human influence, forming new incurable strains, and nowadays we are witnessing the reality of such a threat during the COVID‑19 pandemic. It’s been 20 years ago when Hawking has warned that viruses could destroy humanity rather than an atomic bomb. Thus, the considered catastrophes are the result of humankind development and they may be the cause of its annihilation. The most important responsibility of the scientific community is to prevent such scenarios. Moreover, Hawking suggests that the key to the survival of human civilization is development of colonies in outer space.