Some very big names are thinking about the end of the world… Really! Think of them as an usual group of superheroes…some of Britain’s greatest minds have got together to focus their powers on saving humanity from itself.
Led by the Astronomer Royal and Cambridge don Martin Rees, famous thinkers such as physicist Stephen Hawking and former Government chief scientist Robert May have formed a society to draw up a doomsday list of risks that could wipe out mankind. The group, the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), is working to help the world sleep a little easier at night. Once they have identified the threats they intend to devise ways of ‘ensuring our own species has a long-term future’.
Although nuclear annihilation and a giant asteroid obliterating the planet remain distinct, if unlikely possibilities, Lord Rees now believes ‘the main threats to sustained human existence now come from people, not from nature. One interesting twist that sounds a bit like a science fiction plot: many scientists are concerned that developments in human technology may soon pose new, extinction-level risks to our species as a whole. Yikes!
Scenarios being considered by the 27-person team (academics from Oxford, Imperial, Harvard and Berkeley) includes extreme weather events, fast spreading pandemics, and war or sabotage resulting in a shortage of food and resources. Here is a list of some of the things they are noodling on:Intelligent technology:
- A network of computers could develop a mind of its own. Machines could direct resources towards their own goals at the expense of human needs such as food and threaten mankind.
- Cyber attacks: Power grids, air traffic control, banking and communications rely on interconnected computer systems. If these networks collapse due to action by enemy nations or terrorists, the paralysis could result in society breaking down.
- Engineered infection: A man-made super virus or bacteria with no antidote escapes the lab or is released by terrorists. Millions die.
- Food supply sabotage: Efficient distribution networks mean many Western nations have only 48 hours worth of food stockpiled. Any disruption would result in panic buying and riots.
- Extreme weather: As the Earth continues to warm a tipping point is reached and the process snowballs, resulting in irreversible and worsening natural disasters.
- Fast-spreading pandemic: International travel means a new killer virus, mutated from animals, could travel the globe in days, wiping out millions before a vaccine can be developed.
- War: Growing populations put a strain on water and food resources. Nations will go to war to protect or capture these precious supplies.
- Nuclear apocalypse: Nations with atom bombs launch targeted strikes leading to all-out warfare and global loss of life. Also fears nuclear warheads could fall into terrorist hand.
- Asteroid impact: A giant asteroid is believed to have killed off the dinosaurs. Some fear a similar impact could do the same for mankind.
Now those are a few new things to consider adding to your plans!