The age-old question of whether extra-terrestrial life exists has occupied mankind for centuries.
Earlier this week, a group of science enthusiasts once again discussed that very question and got philosophical, questioning whether we humans have it in us to find the answer at all.
The panelists, including legendary theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, shared their thoughts at a press conference in New York City to announce the Breakthrough Starshot project, an initiative that plans to send several wafer-sized spaceships to observe the closest star to our solar system, Alpha Centauri.
When posed with the question on when such a project could discover alien life, Hawking's answer was less than encouraging. He said it was unlikely we would find intelligent life elsewhere in the universe within the next 20 years.
“The probability is low, probably,” he said.
However, he did concede previous expeditions and discoveries made within our galaxy support the idea alien life could very well exist, even if we won't be able to find it anytime soon.
“The discoveries of the Kepler mission suggest that there are billions of habitable planets in our galaxy alone,” Hawking said. “There are at least a hundred billion galaxies in the visible universe, so it seems likely that there are others out there.”
Nonetheless, Hawking isn't convinced these extra-terrestrial life forms would be friendly, and if intelligent enough, he believes they could threaten humankind.
When asked whether aliens might find us instead, he replied, "We should hope that they don’t find us."
However another panelist at the conference, author and TV producer Ann Druyan, shared a more positive view when answering about the discovery of extra-terrestrial life.
“...Extra-terrestrials are beautiful until proven ugly, because of the great feat and demonstration of maturity that’s required to learn how to be a space-bearing civilization,” said the wife of late astronomer Carl Sagan.
She also shared how curious she found that people were quick to think aliens could be both more intellectually-advanced than humans, and yet lack the emotional capacity to peacefully handle the existence of an alien life form to their own.
“It puzzles me that we always imagine the punitive extraterrestrials to be technically so far ahead of us, and yet every bit as stunted, emotionally and spiritually, as we are at this moment,” she said.
Hawking replied to her witty remark with one of his own, agreeing that humans may not be all that intelligent after all.
And when asked what he thought an alien might look like, his response was, “Judging by the election campaign, definitely not like us."