Hawking on the future of mankind


I blogged, not too long ago, that Stephen Hawking was going to be interviewed by the BBC and that you could submit a question for him. Did you? Well, the interview has now taken place.

Five questions on the table were …

– Was there a “time” when there was “nothing”? – Roland, Lagos

– What will be the impact on Einstein’s theory of relativity if the neutrino is confirmed to be able to travel faster than the speed of light? – David Pointon, Maidstone

–  Some people hypothesise that what we call the universe may only be one of many. Is there any conceivable way that we could ever detect and study other universes if they exist? Is it even falsifiable? – Toby North, Essex

– Do you think the human race will survive all potential disasters and eventually colonise the stars?- Matt Dotchon, Cardiff

– What do you think the impact will be on humankind if Kepler 22-b [Earth-like planet found by Nasa’s Kepler Space Telescope] does indeed support life?- CazCarpSnail via Twitter

If you are curious to hear or read what he said, then you can click here to go to the BBC website.

UPDATES

There is a Live blog on the Guardian here for his 70th Birthday … to give you a sample, here are some extracts …

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking

British cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who turns 70 on 8 January 2012. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

2.21pm: I’m not to give blow-by-blow accounts of every part of the the speeches, mainly because you can follow them live on the web feed, or via Twitter. Alok Jha, for example, has already sent the above tweets about Rees’s speech.

2.18pm: Lord Rees has begin hia address and is giving historical background on his life in science alongside Hawking.

2.16pm: Borysiewicz announces that the university has received an offer to establish and fund a professorship of cosmology named in Hawking’s honour. He adds, for a second time in his speech, an appeal for more funding. That’s the modern vice-chancellor’s job in a nutshell – part leader, part chief tin-rattler.

2.13pm: Ah. Here’s something I should have probably known beforehand. Borysiewicz explains that Hawking has been ill and was only discharged from hospital on Friday and so, for understandable reason, is not attending the symposium as scheduled. He says Hawking should be watching at home, adding:

If you’re listening, Stephen, then happy birthday from all of us here today.

This brings loud applause from the audience.

2.09pm: Borysiewicz is giving the audience a condensed rundown of Hawking’s scientific achivements, and his feats in popularising physics and cosmology. He mentions A Brief History of Time, making the perhaps inevitable follow-on “which we have all tried to read”.

2.05pm: It’s started. We begin with an introduction by Cambridge University’s vice chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz.

A reminder to new arrivals: you can watch it all live on this web stream, which so far looks crystal clear and hasn’t ground to a halt once. You’d have to hope for that with a scientific lecture, but it’s often no guarantee.

2.03pm: You can follow Alok Jha’s tweets from inside the hall here. So far he’s spotted Richard Branson and is hunting down rumours that Lily Cole might be there, too.

Hawking symposiumPhotograph: David Fleming

2.00pm: For those who can’t wait for the live feed, David Fleming has tweeted this photo of the crowd assembling at Lady Margaret Hall in Cambridge.

1.45pm: The chosen hashtage on Twitter, for those who like to follow events through the medium of 140 hastily-typed characters, is #hawking 70. Above is a brief round-up using the magic of Storify.

A number of tweets point to this rather fetching (I think) Lego portrait of the great man.

1.40pm: So what is on offer today? The main event is a rare public lecture by Hawking himself, the punningly-titled A Brief History of Mine. Other speakers at the celebration, which labours under the formal title of The State of the Universe: Stephen Hawking 70th Birthday Symposium, are Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, Saul Perlmutter, who won the Nobel prize in physics last year for the co-discovery of dark energy, and Professor Kip Thorne, formerly of the California Institute of Technology and a longtime collaborator of Hawking.

There are more details at the event’s official website, where those not in Cambridge – like me – can watch a live stream of the event from 2pm-ish.

1.35pm: We don’t provide live blogs for many birthday celebrations, even 70th ones. But this is the man generally celebrated as the most famous living scientist in the world, someone who has not provided great advances on thinking about black holes and the study of the early universe, but sold 10m books detailing his thoughts.

This is, of course, Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist, who was born on 8 January 1942. His life and celebrity are, of course, hard to untangle from the astounding story of how he echieved such feats while living with a form of motor neurone disease. He was famously diagnosed aged just 21 and given just a few years to live by doctors.

Rather than re-hash a lot of detail available elsewhere, here is today’s story about the birthday celebrations by my colleague, Alok Jha, who is in Cambridge and will be reporting from the event. And while I’m assuming most people don’t need convincing of Hawking’s scientific achievements, those who do should read this blush-inducing set of tributes from scientific peers.

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