Earlier this year, SpaceX announced that construction was already underway on what is to become the company’s new flagship rocket and space faring vessel, the BFR. According to the company’s founder, Elon Musk, the BFR (short for Big Falcon Rocket) will be capable of ferrying large crews to and from distant locations like Mars, seemingly making the possibility of a Mars colony attainable for the first time in history.

The motivations that drive Musk’s various endeavors are sure to be as diverse as the endeavors themselves, but Musk revealed at least one of the driving forces behind his goal to colonize both Mars and the Moon in a recent talk he delivered during the SCSW festival, and it’s not an optimistic one.

Musk believes its important humanity has colonies on other celestial bodies to help ensure the species can recover from the next global war.

“Last century, we had two massive world wars — three if you count the Cold War,” Musk explained to the crowd in Texas. “I think it’s unlikely that we’ll never have another world war again.”

In June of last year, Musk unveiled his plan to make humanity a “multi-planetary species” using the Interplanetary Transport System launched via his forthcoming BFR platform. Unlike the recent test launch of the SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, the BFR won’t simply be the most powerful rocket in use anywhere on the planet, it will be the most powerful rocket ever launched when it comes to fruition.

While Musk has addressed other concerns about the long term survival of the species, including asteroid strikes, climate shifts and even artificial intelligence, the threat that seemed most looming to Musk this month was the possibility that what’s left of humanity could be thrown into a new “dark ages” following warfare on a global scale. His hope is that established bastions of humanity located nearby on the moon and Mars could help draw the survivors back into the twenty-first century.

“Then we want to make sure that there’s enough of a seed of human civilization somewhere else to bring civilization back and perhaps shorten the length of the dark ages,” Musk said. “I think a moon base and a Mars base that could perhaps help regenerate life back here on Earth would be really important, and to get that done before a possible World War III.”

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Artist’s rendering of the SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System on Mars. (SpaceX)

With tensions ever rising between the United States and growing threats Russia and China, as well as seemingly innumerable small conflicts percolating around the world that could lead to a cascade of alliances and declarations of war, a third world war is, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, starting to feel entirely possible again. That’s bad news for Musk, and for humanity, as the technological hurdles that need to be overcome to establish such colonies remains daunting.

Musk tempered his concerns about global war, however, with a reminder that it isn’t the only thing that could change life on earth in a dramatically negative way. Before closing out his remarks, he turned his attention back to another concern that may sound more like science fiction than the boogeyman one might expect would keep the successful entrepreneur up at night: artificial intelligence. According to Musk, developing AI is no less dangerous than building nuclear weapons… in fact, it’s worse.

“The danger of AI is much greater than the danger of nuclear warheads, by a lot, and nobody would suggest that we allow anyone to just build nuclear warheads if they want. That would be insane,” he said.

“If humanity collectively decides that creating digital superintelligence is the right move, then we should do so very, very carefully — very, very carefully,” Musk added. “This is the most important thing that we can possibly do.”

Image courtesy of the Associated Press