Stephen Hawking was more than just a scientist looking to formulate better quantum equations, explain the inner workings of nature, and create new technology.
He was a man filled with joy, consciousness, compassion and passion, and someone who has inspired most, if not all, of us working in quantum fields of science today.
Having been asked about his unexpected path forward (after being diagnosed with a disease that would, in most cases, lead to a very brief life span), he said, “I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research.” He found a new purpose in his new life, one that was filled with optimism for humanity. Before he died, Hawking wanted to discover what it was that “breathes fire” into the equations of nature. He wanted to know the reason for reality, and why anything exists at all, and he was deeply excited about the possibilities ahead of us.
Hawking was right. Life does keep changing and evolving dynamically. We ourselves are the fire breathed into the equations. As he once said,
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”
Hawking made us believe that the impossible was possible, not only for scientists, but also for all people with ALS and with similar disabilities that can create barriers that seem unmovable. He embodied limitlessness in human form. This morning, as accolades were filling our social media threads, Sir Richard Branson wrote that Hawking was “a brilliant mind who represented everything humanity can be in its brightest moments,” while former President Barack Obama encouraged Hawking to “have fun out there among the stars.” The band The Foo Fighters were more direct, calling Hawking a “fucking legend.”
A legend he is, and perhaps not only because of his innate brilliance, but also because of his unyielding humanity and commitment to our world. As someone who fought for not only scientific achievement but for mindful awareness in how we engage in building tools for tomorrow, Hawking looked at the big picture.
“We should shift the goal of AI from creating pure undirected artificial intelligence to creating beneficial intelligence. It might take decades to figure out how to do this, so let’s start researching this today rather than the night before the first strong AI is switched on.” (Stephen Hawking, Reddit AMA, 2016)
It’s our responsibility to move forward in a way that supports the kind of humanity and human experience that we want. Hawking once explained, “I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.” We need to look past the frames of reference of the past, and work together to create something new, something amazing and wonderful, out of the resources we have.
While the grand unification theory that shows the connection of the theory between space and time (general relativity) and the theory of particles (quantum mechanics) has not been discovered yet, we will carry on to honor Hawking’s burning question of the great “Why?”.
I believe that we can change the world, and that we can continue building on Hawking’s legacy. We can use scientific discovery to create a joyful and unlimited universe, and we can work together to create an extraordinary human experience.
Question for all of you:
If there was a multi-million dollar “Hawking Prize” in Quantum Physics, what do you think that prize could look like? Please write you ideas in the comments. It would be interesting to see what we can come up with.
P.S. Also, please take a moment to watch this interview with Ilyas Khan on the BBC about Stephen and The Stephen Hawking Foundation.