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Set99 Monday, 15 March, 1999, 15:28 GMT
Hawking predicts 'GM humans'
Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking: Big changes coming
SET99
Humans are set for a major redesign in the next millennium, according to Professor Stephen Hawking.

The famous physicist and author of A Brief History of Time believes the next one thousand years will see huge scientific advances.

He revealed his vision of the future in a speech at Cambridge University to mark the beginning of National Science Week - Set99.

He said genetically-modified (GM) humans were inevitable. He also said the mathematical "theory of everything" would soon be discovered.

On the subject of extra-terrestrial life - something about which the cosmologist is frequently asked - he said he did not believe aliens had visited Earth.

If they had, he added, it would have been "more like Independence Day than ET".

DNA and understanding

Professor Hawking, of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge, gave a typically wide-ranging talk.

The professor said he did not advocate the genetic redesign of human beings, but saw it as inevitable as scientists gained a more complete understanding of DNA.

DNA strand
Greater understanding of DNA will lead to genetically-redesigned people
"Many people will say that genetic engineering on humans should be banned, but I rather doubt if they will be able to prevent it," he said.

"Genetic engineering on plants and animals will be allowed for economic reasons and someone is bound to try it on humans."

He said that it was unlikely to occur in the next 100 years, but GM humans would arrive sometime in the next millennium and they would bear little resemblance to the people of today.

Professor Hawking added that the only way he could see such a situation being prevented was in the event of a "totalitarian world order".

He also said he was "confident" that the so-called theory of everything - something of a mathematical "Holy Grail" - would be discovered within the next 100 years and possibly in the next 20.

Mathematical beauty

Professor Hawking, himself, is acknowledged as one to the world's greatest living mathematicians.

"To a large extent we will have to rely on mathematical beauty and certainty to discover the theory of everything," he said.

ET, the extra-terrestrial
Hawking: Aliens don't look like this
"I will take a bet on 50/50 odds that it will be within the next 20 years."

Scientists would also develop computers as complex as the human brains, he said.

Hawking also predicted that human beings would voyage to other planets and stars.

He said that if there was extra-terrestrial life more advanced than that on Earth, it would probably leave us to develop in our own primitive manner.

But it was more likely that aliens would be less advanced than us, he added.

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Stephen Hawking: "I want people to share in the excitement of science."
See also:

07 Mar 98 | Science/Nature
06 Dec 98 | Entertainment
12 Mar 99 | Set99
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