Quote Origin: I Don’t Think the Human Race Will Survive the Next Thousand Years, Unless We Spread Into Space

Stephen Hawking? Alvin Toffler? David Deutsch? Apocryphal?

Earth viewed from Apollo 17

Question for Quote Investigator: Humankind currently inhabits only one small fragile planet, and the perils on Earth continue to grow. A prominent physicist once insisted that humankind must expand into space in order to survive the next thousand years.

I am not sure of the exact phrasing. Would you please help me to determine the name of the physicist and the phrasing employed for this warning?

Reply from Quote Investigator: In 2001 “The Daily Telegraph” of London published an interview with cosmologist Stephen Hawking. He was asked about the threats facing humanity. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1

“… in the long term, I am more worried about biology. Nuclear weapons need large facilities, but genetic engineering can be done in a small lab. You can’t regulate every lab in the world.

“The danger is that either by accident or design, we create a virus that destroys us. I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Futurist Alvin Toffler became well-known after he published the book “Future Shock” in 1970. Toffler delivered a speech at McGill University the following year, and “The Montreal Star” printed a remark from him suggesting that advances in biological science were perilous. Toffler referred to cloning instead of viruses:2

“Scientists are probably more worried about biology than about nuclear bombs — and with good reason.” (One of the frightening possibilities on the horizon in biology is cloning — the ability, without mating, to produce genetic carbon copies of a person. There could be 100 Einsteins — or 1,000 Hitlers.)

In 2002 Michael White and John Gribbin published an updated edition of the biography “Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science”. The authors referred to the quotation:3

Following the tragedy of September 11th, and as fears of biological attack swept across America, Hawking was reported as saying: ‘I don’t think the human race will survive the next 1,000 years unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet.’

In 2010 the website “Big Think” published an interview with Stephen Hawking in which he reiterated his belief that humankind must become an interplanetary species:4

So, according to famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, it’s time to free ourselves from Mother Earth. “I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space,” Hawking tells Big Think. “It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let’s hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load.”

In 2011 physicist David Deutsch published “The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World” which included the following passage:5

As Hawking has said:
I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.
Daily Telegraph, 16 October 2001

In conclusion, Stephen Hawking deserves credit for the remark he made during an interview published in “The Daily Telegraph” in 2001. He made a similar point in 2010 during an interview published on the “Big Think” website.

Image Notes: Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew. Image obtained from the official website nasa.gov.

Acknowledgement: QI saw this quotation in David Deutsch’s book which led him to formulate this question and perform this exploration.

  1. 2001 October 16, The Daily Telegraph, Colonies in space may be only hope, says Hawking by Roger Highfield (Science Editor), Quote Page 1, Column 3, London, England. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  2. 1971 October 4, The Montreal Star, Bits from the book, Quote Page 21, Column 5, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  3. 2003 (2002 Copyright), Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science by Michael White and John Gribbin, New Updated
    Edition, Chapter 18: Stephen Hawking Superstar, Quote Page 344, Abacus: An
    Imprint of Time Warner Books UK, London. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  4. Website: Big Think, Date: July 27, 2010, Article: #5: Stephen Hawking’s Warning: Abandon Earth—Or Face Extinction, Author: bigthinkeditor, Publisher: Big Think is owned by Freethink Media. (Accessed bigthink.com on October 26, 2023) link ↩︎
  5. 2011, The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch, Chapter 3: The Spark, Quote Page 63, Viking: Penguin Group, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
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