Date: Mon Feb 25 2002 - 13:04:42 MST
Boingboing.net has the following list of the 10 most likely ways the
human race could go extinct, from Stephen Petranek of Discover magazine.
(It was presented as the 10 ways the world could come to an end, but
obviously it is just talking about humanity.)
10. We lose the will to survive (depression being the #1 mental
9. Aliens invade Earth (most primitive civilizations do not survive
8. Our Ecosystem collapses (e.g. we destroy the marginal tree in the
rain forest or run out of fish)
7. Particle accelerator mishap - when we can make devices powerful
enough to make black holes we expect them to evaporate, but we can't
6. Biotech disaster
5. Reversal of Earth's magnetic field
4. Solar flares
3. Global epidemic
2. Rogue black hole
1. Asteroid collision
I don't agree much with the list. Depression wiping out the human race
is impossible because some people wouldn't be depressed and they would
out-reproduce the others. Aliens invading is too unlikely because
of the coincidence of them arriving just as we are on the cusp of our
technological singularity. Rogue black holes happening to wander into
the solar system seem fantastically unlikely.
The particle accelerator accident is also remote because cosmic rays
come into our atmosphere with far more energy than we can hope to
produce, and they haven't eaten the earth yet.
For some of the others we can get pretty good statistical evidence of
their frequency, like magnetic field reversal or asteroid collisions.
Statistically they are unlikely to be a serious threat to the whole human
race in the next few centuries. Likewise with super-intense solar flares;
they would leave a fossil record of mass extinctions, and we know that
those don't happen that often. Same with other astronomical events not
on the list like gamma ray bursts.
This leaves ecosystem collapse, biotech disaster and global epidemic,
all variations on the same topic. To these we should add the other two
members of Bill Joy's unholy trinity, nanotech disaster and runaway AI
(an unfriendly singularity). If the human race has been wiped out a
century from now I would think it would be due to one of these causes.
I'm not sure how to rank their likelihood.
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