Stephen Hawking apparently thought so. In the grand tradition of famous physicists making claims about subjects beyond their scope of expertise, the great British theorist left behind a collection of essays in which he speculated about and predicted the human future. In one essay, published Oct. 14 in the Sunday Times, Hawking argued that humanity risks being replaced by genetically modified “superhumans.”
Well-intentioned research designed to improve human health and human life, he wrote, will eventually be corrupted. People will start to modify humans to live longer, be smarter, or be more aggressive and dangerous.
“Once such superhumans appear, there are going to be significant political problems with the unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” Hawking wrote. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant.”
Was Hawking right to worry about this sort of dystopia?
The physicist framed the problem in startling terms. But he’s not alone in worrying that humanity is wandering into dangerous territory as genetic technologies improve.