Humanity faces a range of threats to its viability as a civilization and its very survival. These catastrophic threats include natural disasters such as supervolcano eruptions and large asteroid collisions as well as disasters caused by human activity such as nuclear war and global warming. The threats are diverse, but their would-be result is the same: the collapse of global human civilization or even human extinction.
It’s easy to be seduced by the news headlines into thinking that the world is going to hell. The Syrian war is an international tangle of state and non state actors, some of whom are genuinely motivated by apocalyptic narratives in which they see themselves as active participants. In fact, a growing number of observers have suggested that the Syrian conflict could be the beginning of a Third World War. Here in the US, there are daily mass shootings, campus rapes, racial discrimination, and police brutality, to name just a few causes for moral alarm. In Europe, the past month has seen multiple terrorist attacks in Paris and London and the worst refugee crisis since World War II. And so on.
Artificial intelligence is a classic risk/reward technology. If developed safely and properly, it could be a great boon. If developed recklessly and improperly, it could pose a significant risk. Typically, we try to manage this risk/reward ratio through various regulatory mechanisms. But AI poses significant regulatory challenges. In a previous post, I outlined eight of these challenges. They were arranged into three main groups. The first consisted of definitional problems: what is AI anyway? The second consisted of ex ante problems: how could you safely guide the development of AI technology? And the third consisted of ex post problems: what happens once the technology is unleashed into the world? They are depicted in the diagram above.
IEET Fellow David Brin has co-edited (with Matthew Woodring Stover) a book published on November 3, 2015, titled: Star Wars on Trial: The Force Awakens Edition: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Debate the Most Popular Science Fiction Films of All Time
What will the future look like? The further upwards one moves from the basement domain of physics, the harder it often gets to predict long-term trends. Nonetheless, we have some fairly good clues about what to expect moving forward.
The Doomsday argument (DA) is controversial idea that humanity has a higher probability of extinction based purely on probabilistic arguments. The DA is based on the proposition that I will most likely find myself somewhere in the middle of humanity’s time in existence (but not in its early time based on the expectation that humanity may exist a very long time on Earth.)
The U.S. Department of Energy has green-lit the construction of a 3.2-gigapixel digital camera for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). Once complete, the instrument will be used by astronomers to study everything from the Big Bang to the motions of nearby asteroids.
Is interstellar travel by bio-humanity even possible? Not according to my dear bro and esteemed colleague Kim Stanley Robinson. Whose new novel AURORA follows one of the first… and possibly last… efforts to send a generation starship to a neighboring star. Naturally, any KSR book is worth rushing out to purchase… though like many of his other works, there is a very strong sense that the author has a point to make.
We’re looking outward… toward the vast, vast majority of all there is. And after decades of doldrums, it seems we truly are regaining some momentum in space exploration. Have any of you been keeping track on a scorecard?
Hang on till the end, to read the news from NASA NIAC!
With the launch of Sputnik in 1957, humankind extended its presence from the Earth’s surface towards outer space. Since that time, thousands of other objects have been sent into Earth orbit, including weather satellites, communications equipment and military hardware. Wherever people go, they tend to leave their mark, mostly harmful, on the natural environment, and space is no exception. There are many pieces of space junk – the remains of discarded, malfunctioning or obsolete devices – that now whiz around the earth and pose threats to current space projects.
We stand at the cusp of guaranteeing the survival of fundamental purpose in the universe, reality, and existence by insuring the continuation of consciousness. This is a far grander calling than merely enabling individual life extension. Existential metaphysical purpose is our foremost responsibility as conscious beings, and computer intelligence is the method of achieving it.
Excitement is building for the New Horizons Mission and its hurried swing past Pluto on July 14. What a terrific way to celebrate Bastille Day! Watch this terrific video - Fast and Light to Pluto - about New Horizons, created by the NY Times.
My plan below needs to be perceived with irony because it is almost irrelevant: we have only a very small chance of surviving the next 1000 years. If we do survive, we have numerous tasks to accomplish before my plan can become a reality.
Additionally, there’s the possibility that the “end of the universe” will arrive sooner, if our collider experiments lead to a vacuum phase transition, which begins at one point and spreads across the visible universe.
The dangers that face Earth and its inhabitants are diverse and intricate. The solutions, if any exists per particular danger, are equally complex and nuanced. Below you will find a shortlist of threats that range from conventional to bizarre.
On this day 245 years ago – July 1, 1770 – humanity had its closest known encounter with extinction (with the possible exception of the Cuban Missile Crisis).
Two weeks before that date the French astronomer Charles Messier had discovered a faint comet in the constellation Sagittarius, which thereafter rapidly brightened and began moving swiftly across the sky. At its peak it was naked-eye, and its coma, according to various observers, the apparent size of from 5 to 16 full moons across. Lexell’s Comet, so named after another astronomer who subsequently calculated its orbit, was then under one-and-a-half million miles from Earth, or less than six times the distance of the Moon, and thus the nearest a comet has ever approached us in recorded history. (Kronk n.d.)
We started to discuss Stevenson’s probe — a hypothetical vehicle which could reach the earth’s core by melting its way through the mantle, taking scientific instruments with it. It would take the form of a large drop of molten iron – at least 60,000 tons – theoretically feasible, but practically impossible.
Since their inception 60 years ago, satellites have gone on to become an indispensable component of our modern high-tech civilization. But because they’re reliable and practically invisible, we take their existence for granted. Here’s what would happen if all our satellites suddenly just disappeared.
The idea that all the satellites — or at least good portion of them — could be rendered inoperable is not as outlandish as it might seem at first. There are at least three plausible scenarios in which this could happen.
Chapter 1 - The Origin and State of the First Intelligent Species
The following statement is something we all understand, but it bears repeating because it is perhaps the coolest, most interesting scientific fact that we know about our universe and human existence:
Hydrogen, given sufficient time, turns into people.
It is an amazing statement if you think about it. A collection of simple atoms swirling around in the early universe, combined with the ordinary laws of nature like gravity, created human beings living here on planet earth over the course of billions of years.
Planetary Resources, founded by Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson, aims to pave the way to humanity mining asteroids for vast wealth… as the B612 Foundation hopes to detect and track asteroids that threaten civilization’s survival… a real case of synergy of purpose. (I’ve been helping both.)
This article examines the risks posed by “unknown unknowns,” which I call monsters. It then introduces a taxonomy of the unknowable, and argues that one category of this taxonomy in particular should lead us to inflate our prior probability estimates of annihilation, whatever they happen to be. The lesson here is ultimately the same as the Doomsday Argument, except the reasoning is far more robust.
Just a short while, a researcher by the name of Safa Motesharri came out with an article that got some support from NASA. NASA at least put some money in that study, and it caught on in the media that the story was an officially NASA sanctioned, supported or otherwise prominent study. It isn't but that does not make the conclusions in the study any more relevant.
A senior American spy chief has released his assessment of the most troubling threats facing the US — a list that includes terrorism, hackers, WMD proliferation, pandemics, extreme weather events — and the militarization of space.
As much as I respect Pres. Obama’s senior advisor on science and technology, John Holdren, on his work in fighting against climate change, I’ve come to find out that his political beliefs are almost interrelated with that of Maoist-Third-Worldism (an extremist Leftist ideology).
Geoengineering has an image problem. Some proposed geoengineering projects, such as space mirrors or cloud seeding, seem like they come from the pages of a science fiction novel. Those who propose these projects are treated with belittling rhetoric. Other projects face a different type of imaging problem; the project’s proponents are accused of having vague or unspecified goals and timelines. Such projects are summarily dismissed as being idealistic, out of touch or nebulous.
Asteroid mining memes have been around for decades. Recently, they molted out of their shell of science fiction into talk of technical feasibility. The rub about asteroid mining is that it’s actually a great idea worth your support because asteroid mining is a lie. This article will delve into the cynical underside of a big ‘sell’ only to enlighten you about why futurists everywhere should embrace farcical solicitations when the underlying story supports a practical and necessary futuristic pursuit;Deflecting Earthbound Asteroids.
Yesterday morning I was diverted to serve a stint as astronomy pundit - on BBC - regarding or planet's double encounter with asteroids. Wow. As one asteroid about 50 meters across zipped by earth, closer even than our communication satellites, another (probably just ten meters in size) gave up more energy than an atomic bomb … gradually, thank heavens, but right over a city in the Russian Urals… briefly outshining the sun and shattering hundreds of windows. My job on-air was to reassure that there would be no dangerous radiation… that in fact, bolides like this one seem to strike our planet once or twice a decade or so, but always till now over open ocean or deserts or countryside. (In the 1970s one such event, off Japan, almost triggered a rise in DEFCON alert level at the US NORAD!)
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