TORONTO - Stephen Hawking says the colonization of outer space is key to the survival of humankind, predicting it will be difficult for the world's inhabitants "to avoid disaster in the next hundred years."
The renowned astrophysicist explores some of the most remarkable advancements in technology and health with the new U.K.-Canadian series "Brave New World With Stephen Hawking," debuting Saturday on Discovery World HD.
Before its premiere, he discussed the earth's most pressing concerns in an email interview with The Canadian Press from Cambridge, England, declaring space exploration to be humankind's most urgent mission.
"We are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history," said Hawking, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, leaving him almost completely paralyzed and unable to speak.
"Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million.
"Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space."
Hawking said this is why he favours manned — or as he puts it, "personed" — space flight and encourages further study into how to make space colonization possible.
Hawking's five-part TV series touches on that theme, while putting the spotlight on scientific breakthroughs that promise to transform the 21st century. He introduces each episode while a team of experts travel the globe to delve deeper into various innovations.
The experts themselves represent a wide range of disciplines — they include naturalist Sir David Attenborough, author and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, biologist and broadcaster Aarathi Prasad, and Canadian astronaut and neurologist Roberta Bondar.
More Canadian content comes by way of a segment set at the SNOLAB in Sudbury, Ont., an underground science lab specializing in neutrino and dark matter physics.
By email, Hawking says he's excited by work underway at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ont., which he visited in June 2010 and was named its first distinguished research chair.
"Perimeter is a grand experiment in theoretical physics and the institute's twin focus, on quantum theory and gravity, is very close to my heart and central to explaining the origin of the universe," said Hawking, also director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge University.
"I am hoping, and expecting, great things will happen there. And I hope to visit again soon."
In September, the institute expanded with a new wing called the Stephen Hawking Centre but the cosmologist was unable to attend in person and sent his regards by video.
Marvels featured in his new TV series include a computer in Switzerland that is powered by the brain, a driverless car that is smart enough to navigate the crooked streets of San Francisco and a baby-like robot in Italy that learns like a child.
Later episodes investigate the way brain disorders could be treated using laser light and genetically modified brain cells, how mobile phones can give experts access to our every habit and action and lasers that print objects in 3D.
"I have so much I want to do," Hawking says of his boundless curiosity about the world. "There are so many questions still to answer."
"Brave New World With Stephen Hawking" debuts Saturday on Discovery World HD.