There’s big news this week. No, I’m not talking about the delayed opening of ski resorts out West because of the lack of snow. And, believe it or not, it has nothing at all to do with Donald Trump. I’m talking about Stephen Hawking’s prediction that we humans have only a thousand years left here on Earth.
Of course, there are some caveats with that timeline. We first have to survive climate change, the potential for nuclear war, and the growing threat of artificial intelligence. (Surely you’ve already begun preparing for the singularity, right?)
In a widely covered talk he gave at the Oxford Union debating society, Hawking made his pronouncement about our future. “I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet,” he is quoted as saying.
Hawking is the most famous cosmologist in the world. (Even though he knows almost nothing about makeup or skincare products!) To most of us, 1,000 years is way off in the incomprehensible future. It’s not in our lifetimes. Or our children’s. Or our children’s children’s. Or…you get the idea. We’re talking about 40 generations or so. We’ll all be long gone by then.
But to a cosmologist, a thousand years is nothing. Their timescale is calibrated in billions of years. The universe is about 14 billion years old. Star ages run from about a billion to about 10 billion years old. The Earth itself is about 4.5 billion years old.
So 1,000 years is a blink of an eye to a cosmologist. If the 14 billion year history of the universe were collapsed to one year, that 1,000 years would be only about 2 seconds. OK, maybe I exaggerated a bit. Two seconds would be a few blinks. Unless you’re a sloth. I bet they blink pretty slowly.
What this means is that we’ve got to get busy. We’ve got planets to find and spaceships to build. I hope you didn’t have other plans for this weekend.