Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist, and cosmologist was known for his groundbreaking work in theoretical physics, as well as his outspoken views on a range of scientific and societal issues. One area that particularly captured his attention was the question of extraterrestrial life and the potential implications of contact with advanced alien civilizations. Hawking famously expressed concerns about the dangers of such contact, warning that we should be cautious in our efforts to seek out and communicate with other intelligent beings in the universe.
In 1988, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and Arthur C. Clarke came together in a historic BBC broadcast. The three were representatives of research, scientific dissemination, and science fiction stories, and those were the topics they touched on during their conversation. One of the issues discussed that day was the possibility of making contact with aliens. While the other two considered the possibilities that communication with beings from another planet would bring, for Stephen Hawking, it was an unlikely but very dangerous matter.
For Stephen Hawking, these topics were more part of science fiction than remotely close to reality. However, if a scenario were to occur in which we contacted a much more advanced civilization (at least militarily or technologically speaking) than us, it could mean very inconvenient things for humanity.
Hawking’s fear is based on the possibility that superior civilizations have malevolent intentions. While Carl Sagan seems to think we wouldn’t have much choice in such a case, the scientist insists that there are no reasons why intelligent beings haven’t visited us yet: they simply don’t exist. And if they did exist, they would be a threat to us.
Stephen Hawking’s Fear of Extraterrestrials
Those reservations about possible extraterrestrial contact remained with him until the last years of his life. In the 2010 miniseries Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, the scientist revealed his concern about extraterrestrials advanced enough to contact us, and their intentions to “colonize and conquer” nearby planets.
“If you look at history, contact between humans and less intelligent organisms has often been disastrous from their point of view, and encounters between civilizations with advanced versus primitive technologies have gone badly for the less advanced,” he said.
Basically, Hawking’s justified fear of aliens has to do with us as a species. If more advanced civilizations treat us the same way we treat organisms with lower intelligence, we’re toast. “If so, they will be vastly more powerful, and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria,” he said in the announcement of the Breakthrough Listen project in 2015.
A year later, Hawking repeated the example he mentioned to Sagan in 1988, but slightly differently: “Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.” What Stephen Hawking couldn’t deny, regardless of whether it’s malevolent or benign civilizations, is that extraterrestrial contact would be “the greatest discovery in history.”