London, Mar 14 : Stephen Hawking, the legendary British theoretical physicist who explored the mysteries of the universe from his wheelchair and went on to become an inspiring figure globally, died today at his home in Cambridge.
His family said that Hawking, 76, died peacefully in his home near Cambridge University, where he did much of his ground-breaking work on black holes and relativity.
Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.
“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world,” the statement said.
“He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him for ever,” it said.
Hawking was born in Oxford, England, on January 8 — the 300th anniversary of the death of astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei.
Hawking suffered from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a neurodegenerative disease commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which is usually fatal within a few years. He was diagnosed in 1963, when he was 21, and doctors initially only gave him a few years to live.
But he went on to study at Cambridge and became one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Albert Einstein.
The disease left Hawking wheelchair-bound and paralysed. He was able to move only a few fingers on one hand and was completely dependent on others or on technology for virtually everything — bathing, dressing, eating, even speech.
Known for his unique way of speaking while living his life in a wheelchair, Hawking became an emblem of human determination and curiosity.
Hawking’s first major breakthrough came in 1970, when he and Roger Penrose applied the mathematics of black holes to the entire universe and showed that a singularity, a region of infinite curvature in space-time, lay in our distant past: the point from which came the big bang.
Hawking’s seminal contributions continued through the 1980s. The theory of cosmic inflation holds that the fledgling universe went through a period of terrific expansion. In 1982, Hawking was among the first to show how quantum fluctuations – tiny variations in the distribution of matter – might give rise through inflation to the spread of galaxies in the universe.
But it was ‘A Brief History of Time’ that rocketed Hawking to stardom. Published for the first time in 1988, the title made the Guinness Book of Records after it stayed on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for an unprecedented 237 weeks. It sold 10 million copies and was translated into 40 different languages.
Hawking won the Albert Einstein Award, the Wolf Prize, the Copley Medal, and the Fundamental Physics Prize. The Nobel prize, however, eluded him.
Despite being a British citizen he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the US’s highest civilian honor, in 2009 by President Barack Obama.
He was the subject of the 2014 film ‘The Theory Of Everything’, which starred Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.
Hawking once said, “I want to show that people need not be limited by physical handicaps as long as they are not disabled in spirit.”
Hawking leaves behind three children and three grandchildren, according to his website.
Hawking warned Artificial Intelligence could end human race
Eminent astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who died today, had warned that the efforts to develop artificial intelligence (AI) and create thinking machines could spell the end of the human race.
Hawking, known for his work on black holes and relativity, was regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Albert Einstein.
He was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease since he was 20.
Despite being told that he had just two more years to live in 1963, Hawking continued to make path breaking contributions to science till the age of 76.
In the last few years, Hawking repeatedly warned about the threat of climate change, artificial intelligence, population burden and hostile aliens.
“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” the cosmologist told BBC News in 2014.
In an interview last year with the WIRED magazine, Hawking said AI will eventually reach a level where it will essentially be a “new form of life that will outperform humans”.
“I fear that AI may replace humans altogether. If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that improves and replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that outperforms humans,” he told the magazine.
The renowned physicist maintained that while the primitive forms of AI had proven very useful, he feared the consequences of creating something that can match or surpass humans.
“It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate,” he had said.
Hawking also warned that due to climate change, Earth will become a sizzling fireball by 2600 and humanity will become extinct.
He declared that humans must “boldly go where no one has gone before” if we fancy continuing our species for another million years.
The astrophysicist believed that humans will need to colonise another planet within the next 100 years to survive climate change, asteroid strikes, and overpopulation.
He had also warned that the aggressive instincts of humans, coupled with the fast pace of growth in technology may destroy us all by nuclear or biological war, adding that only a ‘world government’ may prevent this impending doom.
Hawking believed that humans may lack the skills as a species to stay alive amidst the challenges of climate change, population burden and misuse of technology.
“Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded,” he said.
The scientist believed a new space programme should be worked on urgently by the science community “with a view to eventually colonising suitable planets for human habitation.”
“I believe we have reached the point of no return. Our earth is becoming too small for us, global population is increasing at an alarming rate and we are in danger of self-destructing,” the cosmologist said.
Hawking also warned against announcing our presence to any alien civilisations, especially to those more technologically advanced than humans.
“Our first contact from an advanced civilisation could be equivalent to when Native Americans first encountered Christopher Columbus and things ‘didn’t turn out so well’,” Hawking said in a film.
Also performing a hypothetical flyby of Gliese 832c, a potentially habitable exoplanet located 16 light years away, Hawking noted, “One day we might receive a signal from a planet like Gliese 832c, but we should be wary of answering back.”
Despite his misgivings, Hawking invested in the Breakthrough Initiative’s project focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the Universe.(London Report)