Stephen Hawking on our “imminent danger”

imageIn his last interview, Marlon Brando (one of the most venerated people of the 20th century) of full age and wisdom, sat in his mansion on the hill, looking down on Los Angeles. The interviewer asked one final question, “Do you think mankind will make it?”. Brando looked sad, but almost relieved that his day was over. “No!” Brando answered.

Taking this cue, at the end of an astonishing career, when Professor Stephen Hawking says mankind is threatened, then the world takes notice. And its not to say, it has not been said before by others. The holy books and holy men have been saying it for many thousands of years. Maybe we have become desensitised to their words. Logic and science in the present day, are our foundation stone. Todays populace has been brought up on that diet and so it reaches deeper, I guess.

What does Hawking say?

Three specifics threats and one more general statement. Also, in an earlier talk, he classified one more specific threat.

Mankind is in danger and he would expect some catastrophic event to occur over the ages. An extinction level event has regularly happened every 100 million years or so in the world. This makes sense, as it is really a question of probability and statistical chance. The last time it occurred, the dinosaurs were wiped out. A catastrophic event is about due on Earth.

So where are the possible dangers coming from.

A) nuclear or similar world wide conflagration.
B) environmental damage.
C) genetically engineered viruses.
D) cognitive architecture artificial intelligence.*

*The D point was stated by Hawking in an earlier discussion – the development of artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race”-, while the points A to C are in the Reith Lectures which Hawking made recently for the BBC. The above four points are not a catch-all and future developments might well see more threats appear in this world of ours.

It is very ironic that all these four dangerous points are self created by humans. When science and technology advances, it seems always to be a double edged sword. Used within reason and balance, it is a great benefit to mankind. However, over use or emphasis and it tends to get out of hand, as we reach out for more than our due. This has ever been humanity’s story. We have allowed our greed, ambition and larger unawareness to create threats, which should not have been there at all. Professor Hawking remarked that technological advances, were taking humanity into one of the most dangerous time periods ever.

So how are we to revert this danger of an existential threat to our future generations? Hawking thought the best chance of survival would be to colonise space. That is reverting to our past and core human behaviour. Whenever, what we have in hand is not enough, then we venture out and grab from others. Even the most celebrated mind today, cannot escape our programmed characteristics. Unfortunately, the truth is that at the moment we are at the edge of the science of space travel and surviving out there. This outlet could be hundreds of years away perhaps. So in this time we stand in great existential danger.

Hawking describes himself an optimist, despite the perceived future dangers. Considering his tilt of mind and his great mental capacity, we are well advised to take this danger seriously.

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The sun might as well burst – mans environmental story

Bursting sunIn Surah Rahman it mentions Meezan, “balance”. Man is to live in a balance; the world was built in a balance. Mans footprint in this world should maintain neutrality.

For the age of Man, the ancients kept this balance, Whether it was self taught, gained through experience or just plain luck, it happened through thousands of years. The population was generally maintained below 500-600 million and man was sustainable.  He plowed the land, lived in localities, wasted little and was happy to be at one with his environment. Man never cut useful trees, or made large dams, stored more than his needs and ended his life more or less as he was born. Maybe 0.1% of the population, the Lords and the Ladies, lived it up. They had large castles, scores of attendants, many clothes, lots of food. They even aspired to travel to large towns to meet others like them and also were greedy enough to try to grab more. But this small proportion of population did not effect the balance of the world.

Sometime between 1750-1800, this changed. Three specific events changed us.

The Industrial Revolution came home to create mass production, storage and movement. Then the French Revolution taught the common man, he has as much right as the Kings, Lords and Ladies.  Lastly The American Revolution taught the same common man the route of how to get from the bottom of the pile to near the top. The story was complete and man went after his right to live an independent and good life with all speed and strength. He now consumed as much as he could, science provided him the wherewithal to do so – production, movement and storage. The large city was born. Population multiplied and consumption increased further. This never ending spiral of the good life, hence more consumption, more need, therefore better science, and with better living come more people (better health and longer lives) and eventually more consumption, continues till today. The population which was a steady 600 mn, will peak at 9 bn in 2045. And the earth is operating at more than one earths level and that is not a sustainable model. We have lost that balance, which was maintained by our ancient forefathers.

So did we know about it? Well back in 1872 they discovered acid rain and therefore had an idea that they were doing adverse things to the environment. But we soldiered on. Through the radiation discovery of the Curies, the two World Wars, when Oppenheimer blew the bomb and the ensuing carnage of testing, the baby boomers love of gas guzzlers, the travel boom, the digital age and now the nano technology age. We have continued to use more, more and more and despite all the hue and cry, we still every year continue to consume more.

Now what is really happening out there to show things are changing. Continuously we keep getting hotter years, but we brush that off. The unusual weather patterns, like freak tornadoes, cold waves, hurricanes, floods and untimely weather are all the signs of change, but we look the other way. The oil & gas, consumer  and airline lobbies are too powerful to allow change to happen. Sometime in the 50’s a sadhu at the foot of the Himalayas, who saw change, started photographing himself against the snow line every five years. Eleven pictures and a lifetime later (55 years), this same sadhu had traversed up the mountain side and the snowline had receded rapidly. The satellite pictures comparing Arctic and Greenland in 1970 and 2010 show a massive change, the ice is fast disappearing. Film crews have captured live huge chunks of ice pack, some 50 sq miles, breaking off in Greenland. Similarly whole lakes are seen to disappear within less than an hour, as the ice melts and a hole created at the bottom, allows the lake to flow below the ice pack, grease the bottom and make the flow of ice pack to the sea even easier.

Once the ice pack disappears in the Arctic and Greenland, our goose is cooked. This is the premier reflector of suns rays and it will cause a huge jump in the heat. The sun might as well burst and hit us. It will be faster and quicker. We are consuming our endowment for living, and unless we stop, think and reverse this process, the legacy we leave our children will be a legacy of heat and lack of resources, like food and water. We don’t really want to do this surely? We love our children too much, to allow this to happen. Do something…..

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