Human Extinction

I became interested in my own survival after experiencing illness and emergency surgery. I became interested in the topic of human survival after reading about the dangers of Artificial Intelligence.

And I’m sorry to tell you, it doesn’t look good. I mean, I should be OK for a few more years now, but human survival is in grave danger.

“I think human extinction will probably occur, and technology will likely play a part in this.” – Dr. Shane Legg, PhD, Co-Founder of DeepMind.

In case you doubt this, I did some research, and have compiled a list of the possible causes of human extinction. I don’t mean potential catastrophes like wars or earthquakes, which will kill a lot of us. I mean human extinction level events, which will kill us all.

Here you go (you’re welcome):

  • Natural causes
    • Natural pandemics
    • Super-volcanoe eruption
    • Large asteroid or comet impacts
    • Lethal gama-ray bursts in our part of the Milky Way galaxy
  • Human causes
    • Global nuclear annihilation (war or accidental)
    • Catastrophic climate change (global warming)
    • Emerging Technologies
      • Advanced artificial intelligence (machine intelligence)
      • Biotechnology (creation of pathogens far more damaging than those found in nature – released accidentally or by states or terrorists)
      • Nanotechnology (microscopic robots that replicate themselves)
    • Geo-engineering such as Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) or Solar Radiation Management (SRM), which are attempts to limit the risks of catastrophic climate change
    • Overpopulation
    • Ecological collapse
    • Particle Accelerator Accidents
  • Extraterrestrial invasion
  • Unknown future risks
  • There is also the possibility that the universe is a simulation that will simply end.

According to Global Catastrophic Risks, a 2016 report by Global Challenges Foundation:

“The most significant ongoing risks are natural pandemics and nuclear war, whereas the most significant emerging risks are catastrophic climate change and risks stemming from emerging technologies.” 

Extinction level events have occurred before. We’ve dodged a bullet many times.

  1. 66 million years ago: An asteroid approximately 10 – 15km in diameter struck The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico causing a mass extinction of 75% of plant and animal species, including non-avian dinosaurs (Note: there are 190 confirmed impact sites on the Earth, according to the Earth Impact Database)
  2. 74,100 – 75,900 years ago: The Toba supervolcanic eruption in Indonesia caused a volcanic winter of six to ten years and possibly brought humanity to the brink of extinction (eg. humans down to 3,000–10,000 surviving individuals – not kidding)
  3. 541-542: The Great Plague of Justinian killed 25-33 million people (between 13% and 17% of the world population at the time)
  4. 1346–1353: The Black Death killed 50 to 75 million people (11% to 17% of the world population)
  5. 1520 – 1527: Smallpox killed 200,000 within the Aztec population (75% of the population in some areas). (Note: Smallpox has killed 300 million over the course of the 20th Century as well)
  6. July 28, 1914 – November 11, 1918: The First World War killed 1% of the world’s population
  7. January 1918 – December 1920: The 1918 flu pandemic killed 50 – 100 million people (mostly previously healthy young adults) (between 2.5% and 5% of the world’s population)
  8. September 1, 1939 – September 2, 1945: The Second World War killed 50 – 85 million (3% of the world’s population) and we used nuclear weapons for the first time – twice
  9. 1981 – Present: HIV/AIDS has killed 34 million people
  10. Since 1945: We’ve had several very close calls with nuclear weapons accidents. 

Asteroids, volcanic eruptions, plagues, wars – and now climate change, nuclear armageddon, and AI. Poor Earth. She has been soaked in blood, covered in ash, defiled by waste, and pounded to within an inch of her life. And still she gets up in the morning.

But – either because of the physical laws of the universe (which fling things like asteroids around) or because of the stupidity, greed, selfishness, and arrogance of the supposedly smartest sentient creatures to ever have existed – we are doomed.

Even if humans somehow survive all the immediate threats, the Earth will be burned to a crisp (sorry), along with Mercury, Venus, and possibly Mars, when the Sun becomes a red giant – which it will do in about 7.9 billion years. (We’d better be on Titan by then, thank you Elon!)

But… it’s not over ’till it’s over.

And so people search for solutions – from Elon Musk’s determination to colonize the Universe to each and every human being who decides to reduce waste (or clean up someone else’s mess)…. We’re trying. To survive. To allow for the human experiment to continue, against impossible odds and for some unknown reason.

There are obviously too many topics here for one post. I personally am most concerned about the development of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).

I love robots as much as the next person, but – having worked with narrow AI in the form of a document management program – I can tell you that a machine most definitely has a mind of its own. It will do what it’s programmed to do, come Hell or high water, and it doesn’t care what you want to do. (Go ahead and call IT, AI is not scared of them and won’t listen to them either!) So you don’t need evil AI to do some damage – or even AI with emotions, you just need Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) with a goal.* It will get there – one way or the other.

Stay tuned for further posts about our very survival.

Note: I compiled the above lists using the articles referenced within the post and via several searches in Wikipedia for each event, beginning with “human extinction”.



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