Astrophysicist Martin Rees

The Astronomer Royal talks to Alan Philps about the risk of global catastrophes, new life on Mars, and how to make an impact as a young scientist

The World Today Published 26 July 2019 Updated 6 November 2020 6 minute READ

Alan Philps

Former Editor, The World Today, Communications and Publishing

You describe yourself as a scientific optimist but a political pessimist. What does that mean when some of our greatest challenges stem from our own technical advances?

Some sciences and technologies are advancing so fast that we worry about how we will cope with them. This leads us to be concerned about the gap between the wonderful use that could be made of them and what is actually happening. And they present us with great risks as well as great opportunities. We know about cyberattacks, which are the downside of IT. We will also have bio-attacks as a downside of advances in biomedicine. I really worry because small groups, or even individuals, are empowered by these technologies to the extent that they can cause widescale disruption. And so there is going to be a growing tension between privacy, liberty and security.

Can the pace of advances in science and technology be slowed down?

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