By Nick Miller
An insular, Trump-age mindset won’t help solve challenges like climate change and population growth, warns physicist Stephen Hawking from beyond the grave.
With tears in her eyes, Lucy Hawking listened to her father’s narration over an animation explaining his insights into the paradoxes of black holes: a problem that he was investigating – and publishing research on – right up to his death.
“It feels sometimes like he’s still here,” she said.
But if he were he would be speaking out not just on the exotic problems of fundamental physics and cosmology.
“He was deeply worried that at a time when the challenges that present themselves are global – and need us to come together and work together – that we were becoming increasingly local in our thinking,” Lucy Hawking said. “That at a time when we should be calling for unity we were becoming more and more fractured and divided.
“I think that was a huge concern for him and one that you’ll find all the way through the book… it’s a call for unity, it’s a call to humanity, to bring ourselves back together and really face up to the challenges in front of us and to work together to find a solution.”
The book is a collection of Professor Hawking’s favourite answers to the questions he was constantly asked over his acclaimed career, such as “will we survive on Earth?” and “will artificial intelligence outsmart us?”.
He began pulling it together before his death, but the project was finished by his family and colleagues.
The tenth and last question in the book is “how do we shape the future?”
In his answer, Hawking emphasised the importance of education and research, lamenting that funding for science was being significantly cut.
“We are also in danger of becoming culturally isolated and insular,” he wrote. “With Brexit and Trump now exerting new forces in relation to immigration and the development of education, we are witnessing a global revolt against experts, which includes scientists.”
But science held the answers to pressing problems such as global warming, the growing population, renewable energy and epidemic diseases.
Making science more accessible to diverse populations and young people “greatly increases the chances of finding and inspiring the new Einstein. Wherever she might be”.
In the book Hawking also said:
- Colonising the solar system “may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves… if we stay [on Earth] we risk being annihilated”.
- When computers become smarter than us “we will need to ensure that [they] have goals aligned with ours”.
- In the future, we will communicate through brain-computer interfaces wired into our skulls.
- Sometime during this century we will be able to use genetic engineering to improve our memory and lifespan, but “unimproved” humans won’t be able to compete with the new “race of self-designing beings”.
- Scientists have a duty to alert the public to the “unnecessary risks” posed by climate change.
Professor Hawking concluded that there is “probably no heaven and afterlife”, and there is no reliable evidence for a God that created the universe or directs our fate.
It’s just wishful thinking, he said.
We have just one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe.
“When we die we return to dust. But there’s a sense in which we live on, in our influence and in our genes that we pass on to our children.”
Lucy Hawking said her father would have been “very honoured” by the decision to inter his ashes at Westminster Abbey – between the graves of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.
“He never liked to be alone, he always wanted to be at the centre of everything,” she said.
“I like to think that between Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin he will never be alone again.”
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