Space might be a whole lot more than just the final frontier. According to Stephen Hawking, we need to start looking at space as our best bet for prolonging mankind’s survival. The Independent reported on Feb. 20, that Hawking was giving a tour of London’s Science Museum to Adaeze Uyanwah, a Californian who beat out 10,000 other entrants to win a special trip to London, when he informed her that he believes we should look to colonizing planets as a sort of “life insurance” for the human race.
Threats to humanity, existential or otherwise, seem to be on Hawking’s mind a lot lately. It was only last year that he commented on the potential for artificial intelligence to destroy the human race if it is developed unchecked. He has also raised the alarm on whether we should be attempting to make contact with alien life. In both of these cases, Hawking has argued that we are acting far too recklessly with information and technology that we know very little about.
That said there are many who say that Hawking is overly worried, and that it is paranoia like his that is stymying human development. For instance, researchers at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Seti) are starting a project that aims to use radio telescopes to send regular signals to planets identified as potential habitats for life. Seti’s project is far from the first attempt at contacting alien life, as the Guardian reported NASA beamed the song “Across the Universe” by the Beatles about 431 light years away back in 2008.
However, it wasn’t those threats that Hawking was concerned about when he said that we should be looking at space colonization, it was the danger we pose to ourselves. Aggression, Hawking claimed, is humanity’s greatest threat, and one that “threatens to destroy us all.”
“The human failing I would most like to correct is aggression,” said the astrophysicist. “It may have had survival advantage in caveman days, to get more food, territory or a partner with whom to reproduce, but now it threatens to destroy us all.”
It is true that human aggression was far more useful, and much less dangerous, before the advent of nuclear weapons. Basic human aggression, Hawking claimed, could be enough to bring about the end of the human race if it led to nuclear war.
Hawking hopes that in the future humans will achieve a better understanding of the relationship between humanity and space. “Sending humans to the moon changed the future of the human race in ways that we don’t yet understand,” said Hawking. “It hasn’t solved any of our immediate problems on planet Earth, but it has given us new perspectives on them and caused us to look both outward and inward.”