I read an article today that was looking at human extinction events and whether we need to be concerned. The good news is that most events that spring to mind fall into two categories:
1) Very unlikely
Yes, there’s a supervolcano under Yellowstone Park; yes, there’s the possibility we might get side-swiped by a chunk of space rock the size of Texas; yes, these could wipe out all life on earth… but the probabilities of these sorts of events are really very small, so it’s not a smart move to bet any money on them (for more than one reason). Also, Hollywood antics aside, there’s not a lot we can do about them, so there’s little point worrying.
2) Not actually extinction events
Although it comes as little consolation to the billions who would die, events such as worldwide ebola outbreaks, all out nuclear war or a surprise ice age would not actually cause human extinction. Consider the following acid test… could Ray Mears or Bear Grylls survive the apocalypse in question? If so, then the human race will undoubtedly continue on (assuming there are also female versions of them out there somewhere).
However, the main focus of the article was on new technological threats to humanity that we don’t fully understand yet and that could therefore wipe us out accidentally if we make a wrong move. Although these sorts of threats are generally the purview of science fiction writers, as our science catches up with the fiction, we should start considering what we need to do to ensure our safety… and by we, I mean scientists; I personally have little influence over policy decisions taken by the Institute of Nasty Stuff That Accidentally Kills Infinite Layers of Life (or INSTAKILL for short).
Runaway nanotechnology without an appropriate kill switch (check out qntm.org/gorge for a neat short story on the subject) or AIs with improperly thought out goals (wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Paperclip_maximizer is an interesting thought experiment) may sound far fetched… indeed, they probably are. However, I’d like to hope that someone back at INSTAKILL is applying a little bit of common sense to ensure that they remain so.
I’d like to finish this post by doing my own small part to protect future generations from extinction. Therefore, let the following information be dispersed to as many people as possible… should my son ever turn into a supervillain and look like he’s about to destroy the world in a fit of pique, just give him his cloth and he should calm right down.