Oped

Impending doom

  • We could have averted the disaster that Hawking warns us about had we been aware of the dangers that modern technologies pose
- Shyam Kc
Though a grim prognosis looks unlikely at present, the rate of development of robots indicates that artificial intelligence could prove destructive to humanity

Dec 2, 2016-

Even after a decade since the end of the Maoist armed conflict, peace and stability are still proving to be a mirage. The country’s constitution—touted as the magic wand to bring about unity, stability and development—has become the bone of contention, a source of dissent and possibly yet another lame excuse for another armed conflict. In the worst case, disagreement over the statute can even fragment the country, as 

some dissenting leaders have warned. So we all have far and indeed very far to go. In fact, not only do we have to go far for political stability at home, but the whole of humanity has to go very far to ensure the survival of the human species. 

A modern-day genius last month warned all humanity that we should find another planet to ensure that the human species will not go extinct in the next 1,000 years or so. Thanks to human follies that have been instrumental in bringing catastrophic changes in climate, the development of robots—in which we take so much pride—and the misuse of nuclear technology, we are all racing towards the extinction of the human race. This is not something laypersons are saying. The warning has come from Stephen Hawking who despite his physical condition is regarded as one of the greatest scientists today. Most countries are aware that the emission of large amounts of carbon dioxide has adverse effects on nature and results in dangerous climate change. The top carbon dioxide emission countries in the world include China, the United States, Russia and India. The fact that Nepal is located between two of them should make us aware of the danger we face. Yet, we as an independent country say nothing or register a sensible protest against the dangers posed by these two countries.  But these countries are intent on becoming industrial powers at almost any cost. 

What can Nepal do?

Let alone raising our humble voice against the industrial and other activities that affect the global climate, Nepal has no qualms about destroying its natural beauty by undertaking construction of unnecessary buildings such as resorts and hotels in places where they need not be. The uniquely beautiful Rara Lake is much in the news these days as the ideal tourist spot. By all means, the spot needs to be promoted to attract foreign as well as domestic tourists. Constructing resorts, restaurants or even 

small cafes and roads will destroy the natural environment and deface the scenic beauty of the lake. In order to cater to the needs of visitors, would not it be wiser to build hotels, resorts and restaurants some distance away?  Visitors can walk to the lake and take with them whatever refreshments they need. 

But all this is a futile dream in a country where bus stops are emptied to build tall buildings and the bus depot is relocated to a public playground. This is a country where the government and its affiliated institutions senselessly construct buildings even in Tundikhel and deny playing areas to the youths and children, thereby encouraging them indirectly to opt for harmful pastime such as drugs. When small countries like Nepal do such things, can we expect bigger powers to safeguard the future of humanity? Whatever happened to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol? And what will happen to last year’s Paris agreement?

A stitch in time

The other area of concern to Hawking is the rise of artificial intelligence or the development of robots. There are remote controls everywhere these days and the spread of artificial intelligence need not always be helpful, especially when some programmes in robots go astray and they begin to function on their own. Though this kind of grim prognosis looks unlikely at present, the development of robots at the current rate indicates that artificial intelligence could indeed prove destructive to humanity at some future date.

The nuclear threat is of great concern all over again. The attitude of big powers, including nuclear powers, is alarming to say the least. The nuclear powers today want to keep the nuclear weapons to themselves and do not want any other country to have them. A positive attitude would have been to destroy all nuclear weapons. But that is not quite likely. And this is why Stephen Hawking calls it “nuclear terrorism”. But laypersons like us also fear the threat posed by nuclear reactors and nuclear power stations. Nuclear waste has a life span of micro-seconds to thousands of years and even though the present generation think the dangerous isotopes can be safely stored, there is no firm guarantee that such isotopes will not be exposed in the open by some large scale natural disaster. The case for Nepal is especially tough, as China, India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and at least two of them use or are trying to use nuclear energy to generate power. This at a time when a country like Germany has vowed to close all its nuclear power plants by 2022. The craze for nuclear energy can only result in disasters for mother earth. 

Stephen Hawking has advocated the search for fresh earth-like planets in outer space for the survival of the human species. The search will not be easy as today we cannot even land humans on any outer space object (except on the moon which was way back in 1969). We might have been able to avert the disaster that Hawking warns us about had we been aware of the dangers that modern gadgets and technologies pose. A stitch then might have saved nine today and we might have protected our earth from doom which, according to Stephen Hawking, is slowly but surely coming. 

Published: 02-12-2016 08:37

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