Noted British physicist Stephen Hawking predicted Tuesday that genetic engineering will produce a superhuman race that will have greater mental powers and more resistance to disease.
Hawking, who has been paralyzed much of his life, also told a computer convention in Boston that some sort of space travel to nearby stars will take place within the next 200 years.By altering human DNA, the body's basic genetical material, Hawking said, "People will discover how to modify intelligence and (tone down) aggressiveness."
At first, he predicted, scientists will alter DNA to fight diseases such as cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, which result from changes to a single gene.
It will take longer for scientists to learn how to manipulate human intelligence, because it is probably controlled by multiple genes, said Hawking, a Cambridge University mathematician and author of the book, "A Brief History of Time."
As a student, Hawking was stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of degenerative paralysis. He delivered his remarks to the 1994 Macworld Expo using a speech synthesizer.
He said laws will be passed to restrict genetic engineering but predicted some scientists will not be able to resist expanding the size of human memory or ensuring resistance to disease.
He said a race of superhumans would cause a political problem for normal humans, and set off a rivalry between the two groups.
Eventually there will be "a race of self-designing human beings."