A new Stephen Hawking book came out Tuesday, and the late physicist issues a warning in it that sounds straight out of a dystopian sci-fi movie. Hawking worries that genetic editing will allow the rich to turn themselves into "superhumans" who will eventually dominate the world and perhaps the universe, reports the Guardian. "Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete," warns Hawking in Brief Answers to the Big Questions, as excerpted in London's Sunday Times. "Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving at an ever-increasing rate." Hawking says the first stages of this development will be beneficial, with fixes to diseases such as muscular dystrophy through technology such as CRISPR.
Laws will be passed to keep genetic engineering under control, but "people won’t be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics, such as memory, resistance to disease and length of life," he predicts, adding that such breakthroughs will likely happen this century—and be available only to the wealthy. Looking further out, "if the human race manages to redesign itself, it will probably spread out and colonise other planets and stars," he writes. The latter could become necessary in the event of catastrophe, the mostly likely being an asteroid strike that wipes out much of life on Earth, writes Hawking, per Quartz. Our No. 2 threat? Climate change. One "big question" that Hawking answers is whether God exists. He thinks not. "If you like, you can call the laws of science 'God,' but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you would meet and put questions to." (Read more Stephen Hawking stories.)