Future Human Extinction Risks

By: The FHE Team

We debated whether or not to include a “Doomsday” section on the site. We are not alarmist. In the end however, we recognize that to ignore the possibility of humanity’s demise is irresponsible for a website dedicate to its future.

Education and awareness can be a powerful force when used by citizens to effect change and action in individuals, businesses, and governments. Toward this goal we have established some basic content outlining and assessing some popularized potential threats to our continued well being as a species, with links so that you can research and learn about the topic more thoroughly.

Risks to Humanity: What is a Doomsday Scenario?

Extinction: The end of Future Human EvolutionIn the context of human evolution, doomsday is any event, condition, or process that results in civilization being unable to progress. In its most extreme form it literally means the extinction of the human race (or derivatives therefrom). There are several schools of thought on the nature of doomsday. In some of these, the phenomenon is projected to be a natural catastrophic event such as a meteor, super volcano, etc.or a man-made catastrophe like nuclear holocaust, runaway nanotechnology or a wayward AI.   In others the ‘end’ is perceived to be a bit more gradual such as the destruction of our terrestrial ecology. Some theorize that the end to progressive evolution will occur even more slowly in the form of dysgenics, a reversal of the evolutionary process. Finally, there are individuals and organizations who perceive the realization of post-humanity to be the greatest threat of all. Below is a very brief introduction to these ideas with links to facilitate your further investigation.

Natural Disaster

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“Natural Disasters” cover a lot of territory. Earthquakes, volcanic activity, hurricanes. These are not species threatening though harmful to a subset of humans. Catastrophic for all would be a major meteor or comet impact. Mass extinctions, runaway infernos, erratic climate fluctuations, and devastating effect on human civilization. We place the risk as low because the likelihood of an impact prior to our adequate preparation is low. The privatization of space and the decreasing cost of launch will soon combine to make positive action to such a threat possible.

Ecological Destruction

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We categorize the health of our planet at high risk for being able to sustain the current levels of population growth and pollution. While there are a few environmentalists who propose we are in fine shape, the risk that we are not is too great to ignore the issue. We view overpopulation, dirty energy, and the “disposable”  culture as major contributors to poor ecological health. We are not tree-huggers, but advocate learning to live in balance with our environment before we spread “locust” behavior to other worlds.

SuperBugs

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Was penicillin one of mankind’s greatest discoveries, or will it ultimately destroy civilization? In the past 20 years, common bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, Serratia marcescens and Enterococcus, have developed resistance to various antibiotics such as vancomycin, as well as whole classes of antibiotics, such as the aminoglycosides and cephalosporins. Antibiotic-resistant organisms have become an important cause of healthcare-associated (nosocomial) infections (HAI). Overuse of antibiotics and their extensive use in agriculture and farming that get absorbed by consumers in doses that make bacteria stronger rather than kill it make this item a very important long-term risk to watch.

Technology

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Developing and deploying technology comes with inherent risk as it is about pushing the boundaries of the known.  Within the scope of the technologies we watch on this site, Gray Goo (runaway, swarming nanobots) are a far future worry, whereas Artificial Intelligence may pose a threat in the next 10 years. The unpredictable behavior of an intelligence greater than our own is exactly that- unpredictable. I laughed uncomfortably when I first saw the site AI Will Kill our Grandchildren, years ago. Should we assume a benign and benevolent creation, or a cunning, baffling, and powerful intelligence that may, despite directives, out-think its makers in knowing what’s best across a reality that we can’t even fathom?

“Terrorist” Threats

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Terrorists cause and intend to cause death, social disruption, and emotional pain to humanity. Whether it be rogue nations or a band of outlaws, their destructive powers are only limited by the weapons at their disposal. As technology makes greater destructive power easier to acquire, it may inevitably fall into hands bent on the destruction of civilization. Conventional weapons (including aircraft) and chemical compounds only cause local damage. Likely methods of mass destruction on a societal scale are biological agents and nuclear bombs. Nuclear detonations would only cause the destruction of civilization if accomplished in sufficient number. A well engineered and strategically released virus could spread like wildfire throughout the world. We rate this risk as medium because the technology exists or soon will, and there are people who want to use it.

•  Assessing the Threat of Mass-Casualty Bioterrorism
•  Biologic Terrorism Responding to the Threat

Dysgenics

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Dysgenics refers to the process of individuals with ‘poor’ intelligence or characteristics producing disproportionately more progeny due to societal nullification of the natural selection process. The theoretical result is a steady genetic deterioration in human populations. One theory states that we will de-evolve genetically (loss of intelligence and the ability to utilize technology) to maintain equilibrium with the environment. This, of course, is very unlikely if for no other reason because of the time scale required. Before this ever becomes a species threatening issue we will either have allowed the destruction of civilization via some other method or have long since transcended the genetic bonds of biological recombination.

•  Dysgenics: Genetic Deterioration in Modern Populations
•  Dysgenics or Eugenics

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Anti-Technology Political Activism

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Where we do see risk is in the potential loss of political will to pursue human advancement technologies created by:

1. an increasing population more interested in satisfying current needs at the expense of our future.
2. increased anti-technology political activism based on religious, moral, and ethical grounds.

These could serve as impediments to technological progress long enough for one of the other risk factors to have a severe detrimental impact to the advancement of our civilization.

Anti-technology Groups:


Post Humanity as the Ultimate Threat

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What is this risk? This risk is that through changes in our physical being we change our spiritual nature, or our very “human-ness”. There are those that claim altering anything about ourselves places us in jeopardy of becoming posthuman, or worded more strongly, non-human. We are in the process of identifying Internet and other resources who present the case clearly.

As proponents of human advancement through technology, we rate this risk as low. And we do so for a number of reasons, some of which include:

  1. Given our vision of diversity for future human evolution, we believe that regardless of the many ways that technology will be applied to alter members and segments of our species, there will be a significant contingent who remain “natural”.
  2. Our ability to manipulate the genome is a natural act. It is at the core of what make us human – the ability to develop and utilize technology to understand and control nature. Different segments of the population, special interest groups, and individuals will make unique contributions to the soon-to-be fluid constitution of our DNA. “Natural” selection, similar to today’s world, will be determined by social values- “good” modifications will be incorporated into the larger gene pool through both natural reproductive means and deliberate replication, modifications perceived as “bad” will not.

Naturally, equal protection under the law will play an integral part in allowing a genetically diversified culture to function effectively, as will equal access to the technology.