Leave The Planet

Knell of Parting Days?

Manas Joardar

Is devastation of our planet earth in foreseeable future fate accompli? Prof Stephen Hawking, for one, predicts so. This scientific genius has been warning during last few years that the human race is in danger of extinction. "Humans must leave Earth in 100 years to survive": advised Hawking.

Over-population has been a nagging problem. During an interview held in June, 2016, he said—"Six years ago, I was warning about pollution and overcrowding, they have gotten worse since then". Senseless expansion of Artificial Intelligence, asserts Prof Hawking, is yet another threat to the planet.

According to the United Nations, the World population is projected to increase to 8.5 billion in 2030, to 9.7 billion in 2050 and to 11 billion by 2100 (Table 1). While the share residing in Asia drops from 60 percent in 2015, to 54 percent in 2050 and to 44 percent in 2100, that of Africa rises instead, from 16 percent to 25 percent, and to 39 percent respectively over the same period of time.

Of the existing 21 high-fertility countries, 19 are in Africa and 2 in Asia. The largest are Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo; United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda and Afghanistan. Incidentally, Human Development Index (HDI) score of all these countries is quite poor.

In Nigeria, the country with an explosive population growth the high fertility rate would pick up a more than fourfold projected increase in total population : from 182 million in 2015 to 752 million in 2100. This "elephant in the room" eats out much of whatever progress could have been otherwise attainable.

In 2016 Nigeria with a fertility irate of 6.6 per woman was estimated to be at the top. Situation like this can hardly promote a happy social order there. In the HDI ranking of the United Nations Human Development Programme, 2015, Nigeria occupies 152nd position among 187 countries. It would, on the contrary, degrade pollution, make resources scare and indulge poverty, unemployment and political unrest.

But the problem as of now, does not appear too insurmountable. Malthusian prediction that human population, by virtue of their biology, would run out of resources—has not happened. Ingredients of HDI need special attention, nevertheless.

With advancement of digital computer technology, machines were designed which have thinking capability or Artificial Intelligence (AI). It helps reduce human shortfalls and make human life all the more enjoyable. AI, a branch of computer science, is in a constant process of making computers or machines as intelligent as human beings or even more. People were overexcited when Deep Blue Computer of the IBM Corporation defeated the then World Chess Champion Gary Kasporov in 1997.

A pocketsize smartphone can access internet, play video games, play and receive video/voice calls. They can be easily provided with Wi-Fi, Global Positioning System (GPS) of navigation etc.

SIRI, Braina, Cortana and many more creations of Artificial Intelligence may work well as intelligent digital assistants to make life easier. It has wide application areas including ticket booking, banking, financial institutions etc. Cyber Hacking and few other disturbing problems sometimes create irritations of course calling for a smart solution.

One very significant application of AI is in the radio-surgery and mental health treatment of ailing patients. Radio-surgery is used in operating tumours and this can actually help in the operation without damaging the surrounding tissues. Besides recovery of ailments, it claims to have the potential to eradicate poverty too.

Autonomous or driverless cars are ready for being on roads soon. They are said to have benefits like much more systematic traffic flow resulting fewer traffic chaos on road, a high average vehicle speed of more than 100 km per hour, much less fuel consumption and many more.

Artificial Intelligence and the science of robotics can be put to use in sea, mining and other fuel exploration processes. Not only that, these complex machines can be used for scrutinising the ocean floor and hence overcoming human limitations thereon. Robots can perform more laborious and tedious work with greater responsibility. They do not wear out easily and may go on working untiringly. Besides, AI has a very big role to play in space exploration. Used with a positive intention, AI can be made to protest despotism, eradicate poverty and hunger and perform many other wonders.

Continuation and advancement of an AI system is too costly a process. Human workforce when replaced by machines in a big way, is sure to cause a large scale unemployment problem leading to deplorable socio-economic disorder. People with nothing to do can only be lead to the destructive use of their creative minds.

Machines having no emotions and moral values perform only what is asked for. They cannot make the judgment between right and wrong. Military use of AI is not quite new. Autonomous AI controlled weapons are very much there. Drones, remote controlled autonomous robots, have been used to kill hundreds of people so far. Competition among rival countries for acquiring more sophisticated AI operated war weapons often invites large scale troubles disturbing peace of people over a wide area. Nature and its resources get damaged.

People once addicted to a rampant use of AI become lazy and lose their creative power. And autocrats loving, to own more and more power may, however, be inclined to devise dreadful autonomous weapons. Dubious people with the 'needed talent' get easily procured. An atmosphere of constant threat of machines taking over or superseding the human is created.

Prof Hawking repeatedly warned that artificial intelligence, if it is not properly managed, could be the greatest disaster in human history. It could bring about serious disaster in the autonomous weapons and novel ways for those in power to oppress and control the masses. Hawking suggested AI could be the last event in the history of our civilisation if humanity ignores the risks it posed. But he also stressed that AI could have great benefits to erase countless adversities too.

Doughtless, AI is a big achievement of modern technology. But who controls? Prof Hawking had no peace of mind apprehending its misuse. Some of his observations :
l    Artificial Intelligence indeed can go a long way in the eradication of disease and poverty and in the conquest of climate change.
l    The Invention of Artificial Intelligence could be the biggest disaster in humanity's history.
l    Artificial Intelligence in wrong hands is a serious threat to mankind.
l    AI will be either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity.
l    Greed and Stupidity Will End Humanity Earlier than Expected.

His was not the only voice cautioning the dangers of AI—Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and others also expressed their apprehension about the alarming fate of the technology.

To save the planet from the fury of global warming, many wise people had come forward in opposing over-exploitation of natural resources of our planet. Those opposing them were also not quite few. Classical theory may not appear strong enough between growth of population and of production right now. Their major concern, as disseminated appeared to have been the apprehension of lowering their standard of living. This is at least how the most powerful leaders of the world did look into the matter. More specific business consideration was, needless to say, inside the hidden agenda of world class players. International mitigation proposals for a solution going on over decades did hardly prove to be more than a mere table-talk because of this machination. Most of the economically strong, upper-strata people everywhere are running after an ever-growing hedonistic life style. Show of money is all that matters. Very few care for a huge wastage incurred every day. Had there been a little less, much improvement of the under-could have been possible. Existence of polluted ambient air is now a growing problem world over. Expanding urbanization with high rise buildings is worsening the situation. Facts presented in "State of Global Air/2017" published jointly by two American Institutes describe a lot of issues quite revealing. In 2015, over 90% of the world population lived in areas with unhealthy air quality.

Of the two publicised air pollutants, discussed in the report, one is a very tiny suspended particulate matter PM25. And the other is Ozone gas. In the upper atmosphere stratospheric Ozone acts as a protective screen shielding us from high power ultraviolet radiation of the sun. On earth's surface Ozone is formed when some other pollutants react in presence of the sun. Ambient air containing Ozone as a pollutant is considered dreadfuI. Exposure to them may cause asthma, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) etc.

Emission of PM25 takes place from windblown mineral dust, industrial and transportation related sources, combustion of coal fired power plants, household solid, agricultural and other open burning fuels. Table-2 shows that total number of PM25 attributable death was 34.77 lakh all over the world in 1990. In 2015 it crossed 42 lakh—an increase of 22%.

Number of deaths attributable to Ozone during the period was not that high though, the increase over the same period is awful—nearly 61%. Of all those PM25 victims died in 2015, 52% was from China or India. In case of Ozone victims, the figure is above 70%.

So many deaths from polluted air? Callous indifference—is the reaction of the general public.

Prof Hawking has been asking people to leave this planet for the sake of saving human life. He stated afterwards ‘‘Greed and Stupidity Will End Humanity Earlier than Expected’’.

Even if we leave our planet on time to save humanity, will Greed and Stupidity leave us, Prof Hawking?



Population (million) of the world and major areas according to the medium-variant projection

Major Area
Population (million Year)
Latin America and the Caribbean
Northern America   

[Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects : The 2015 Revision. New York : United Nations.]


Shows that total number of PM attributable death was 34.77 lakh all over the world in 1990. In 2015 it crossed 42 lakh—an increase of 22%

PM 2.5 (Lakh)
Ozone (Thousand)

Source : State of Global Report 2017


Autumn Number
Vol. 50, No.12-15, Sep 24 - Oct 21, 2017