What Stephen Hawking Thinks Threatens Humankind The Most

Published July 1, 2016
Updated December 6, 2017
Stephen Hawking

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Of all the things that threaten humankind, Stephen Hawking thinks that trash and human stupidity are the greatest.

In a recent Larry King Now interview, the famous theoretical physicist said that over the past decade, “we have certainly not become less greedy or less stupid” in the ways in which we treat our environment.

He added that population booms are at least in part to blame for the state of our natural world — and that he has been saying this for some time now. “Six years ago, I was warning about population and overcrowding,” Hawking said. “They have gotten worse since then.”

“At this rate, [the global population] will be 11 billion by 2100. Air pollution has increased by 8 percent over the past five years… Will it be too late to avoid dangerous levels of global warming?”

Booming populations and pollution weren’t alone on Hawking’s list of biggest threats. The physicist also singled out what he calls global governments’ artificial intelligence (AI) arms race, and what it says about their priorities. “Governments seem to be engaged in an AI arms race, designing planes and weapons with intelligent technologies. The funding for projects directly beneficial to the human race, such as improved medical screening, seems a somewhat lower priority.”

He also worries about the future of AI, and our ability to control it. “I don’t think that advances in artificial technology will necessarily be benign,” Hawking said. “Once machines reach the critical stage of being able to evolve themselves, we cannot predict whether their goals will be the same as ours.”

Hawking made these remarks while at Tenerife, Spain’s Starmus conference, where at age 74 he unveiled rather ambitious plans to map the entire known universe with radiation patterns.

All That's Interesting
Established in 2010, All That's Interesting brings together a dedicated staff of digital publishing veterans and subject-level experts in history, true crime, and science. From the lesser-known byways of human history to the uncharted corners of the world, we seek out stories that bring our past, present, and future to life. Privately-owned since its founding, All That's Interesting maintains a commitment to unbiased reporting while taking great care in fact-checking and research to ensure that we meet the highest standards of accuracy.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.