"The world is worse for their passing" is an easy platitude whenever someone dies, but it's rarely true—usually the planet is, you know, just fine without any specific person. But in Stephen Hawking's case, it's completely accurate. Humankind has lost one of its greatest minds, and while Hawking's groundbreaking, brain-bending accomplishments will remain relevant into the far future, the fact humanity won't benefit from any more of them—nor hear any more of his insights or predictions—makes our world a little bit worse.
It also makes my dumb joke in this week's issue of the Mercury even dumber! It's in the print edition, on our Things To Do page, and if I could go around Portland and take out every one of these pages from the tens of thousands of Mercury issues that are being distributed right now, that's what I'd be doing instead of typing this.
When I wrote that last week, I was stoked that I managed to sneak a Hawking quote into the paper. Science—especially space science—is a big deal for me, and along with Carl Sagan, Hawking's always been one of my favorite people in the field. As of last night, even—as I was giving the final sign-off on Mercury pages as we sent them to press—that dumb joke seemed fine. (And like one that Hawking might've even appreciated, maybe? Guy had a pretty great sense of humor.)
But now that joke doesn't seem fine. We were able to cut it from our online calendar, but today's brand-new issue of the Mercury, with that line intact, will be floating around Portland for the next week.
Hawking deserved a better send-off than that—even in the Mercury, and even in a goofy throwaway joke about killer robots. I'm sorry I wrote it, and I'm sorry it's out there, but I can, at least, note that it came from a place of respect rather than cruelty.
Here's the actual context of Hawking's quote about artificial intelligence—and tonight, rather than dwelling on my poorly timed joke, I'll be rewatching Errol Morris' A Brief History of Time. There's about a 100 percent chance that once it's over, I'll put on this episode of The Next Generation, too.
I'm not the only person who misses Stephen Hawking—far from it. But I do, and I wish I hadn't made that dumb joke.