Stephen Hawking Says Earth Only Has 600 Years Left, For Some Reason

Iconic cosmologist Stephen Hawking pulled out a rather extreme sales technique in Beijing on Saturday: trying to literally scare up support for a plan to send tiny ships into deep space by raising the specter of the apocalypse.

Speaking at the Tencent WE Summit Sunday, Hawking warned that overpopulation and extreme energy consumption will turn Earth into a fire ball by the year 2600. It’s unclear what Hawking is basing this timeline on, or how exactly our air conditioners will melt an entire planet.

Given the famed physicist’s record of concern with climate change, it’s likely he’s using a little hyperbole to make a point here about the need for a more sustainable approach to the use of our limited terrestrial resources. But to be clear, while rampant drought and desertification is a very real threat in the coming decades and centuries, it would probably take a catastrophic collision with a massive comet or dwarf planet to literally turn our planet into a fireball.

(I know you may have heard about just such a threat lurking behind the sun, but I promise you that one is a hoax.)

Hawking’s latest bit of existential scare-mongering comes within hours of warning attendees of the Web Summit in Portugal about the apocalyptic dangers of artificial intelligence.

His message of doom in China, however, was merely the preface for a pitch to support Breakthrough Starshot, a Hawking-supported effort to send laser-propelled nanocraft to explore the nearest star system beyond our sun, Alpha Centauri.  Hawking says such a tiny craft could fly-by Mars in just an hour, reach Pluto in a few days and make it to Alpha Centauri in about twenty years.

Alpha Centauri’s partner star, Proxima Centauri is thought to be orbited by the potentially habitable planet Proxima b. If all goes perfectly, the Breakthrough Starshot team hopes to use the nanocraft to take our first close-up pictures of a planet around another star, including whatever may or may not live there.

It’s actually a very noble and exciting endeavor, so why Hawking needs to inject science fiction into the narrative to drum up support for his science project is a little baffling. But then again, here we are talking about it.

Source: Forbes, Eric Mack (You may follow him on Twitter @ericcmack and on Google+)

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