Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking predicts that the world's mounting population will consume enough energy to render the world a "ball of fire" within 600 years, according to British newspaper Metro

Speaking via video Sunday at Beijing's Tencent WE Summit, Hawking declared that humans must "boldly go where no one has gone before" if they wish to survive another million years, The Sun reported.

He also had really ominous things to say about artificial intelligence

Stephen Hawking.

Hawking's plan: Breakthrough Starshot, a project also backed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, aims to send a probe to explore the closest star system known as Alpha Centauri, per The Mirror.

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The Sun reported that Alpha Centauri exists some four light-years away, meaning that a probe able to reach Mars in less than an hour would take just over 20 years to reach the system, Hawking said.

Pete Worden, former director of NASA's Ames Research Center, now oversees Breakthrough Starshot.

"Maybe if all goes well, sometime a little after the middle of the century, we'll have our first picture of another planet that may be life-bearing, orbiting the nearest star,” he said at the summit.

Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner