Say whaaaaat? Yes, that’s right. 6 years after the 2008 global financial crisis, we’re really not that much smarter about the whole macro-economic situation. In 2013 the World Economic Forum conducted their 8th annual Global Risk Assessment study. Top of the list to trigger a global financial collapse (read breakdown of the world’s food, energy, medicine supply and distribution, riots, starvation, decent into barbarism, and the like) is Major systemic financial failure. It has grown more likely to occur since the 2012 study. Big banks are even bigger than 2008 levels, can borrow excessively up to $97 out of every $100 of their assets, rely too much on overnight lending, are too inter-related, and a number of other previously identified warning signs everyone is conveniently ignoring.
Shifts in Global Economic Risks, 2012 to 2013 from WEF
Chronic fiscal imbalances (enormous deficits) are expected to have a greater impact than thought in 2012. Extreme volatility in energy and agriculture prices, and severe disparity in incomes became gauged as more likely to cause or trigger collapse. Unmanageable inflation/deflation, chronic labor market imbalances, emerging economies cut short, and over-regulation are all seen as both more likely and of having a more severe impact than assessed just a year ago.
Together, the United States and Russia still have almost 19,000 active nuclear warheads. Nuclear war seems unlikely today, but a dozen years ago the demise of the Soviet Union also seemed rather unlikely. Political situations evolve; the bombs remain deadly. There is also the possibility of an accidental nuclear exchange. And a ballistic missile defense system, given current technology, will catch only a handful of stray missiles- assuming it works at all.
Other types of weaponry could have global effects as well. Japan began experimenting with biological weapons after World War I, and both the United States and the Soviet Union experimented with killer germs during the cold war. Compared with atomic bombs, bioweapons are cheap, simple to produce, and easy to conceal. They are also hard to control, although that unpredictability could appeal to a terrorist organization. John Leslie, a philosopher at the University of Guelph in Ontario, points out that genetic engineering might permit the creation of “ethnic” biological weapons that are tailored to attack primarily one ethnic group
Robots (Artificial Intelligences) Take Over
People create smart robots, which turn against us and take over the world. Yawn. We’ve seen this in movies, TV, and comic books for decades. After all these years, look around and still- no smart robots. Yet Hans Moravec, one of the founders of the robotics department of Carnegie Mellon University, remains a believer. By 2040, he predicts, machines will match human intelligence, and perhaps human consciousness. Then they’ll get even better. He envisions an eventual symbiotic relationship between human and machine, with the two merging into “postbiologicals” capable of vastly expanding their intellectual power.
Marvin Minsky, an artificial-intelligence expert at MIT, foresees a similar future: People will download their brains into computer-enhanced mechanical surrogates and log into nearly boundless files of information and experience. Whether this counts as the end of humanity or the next stage in evolution depends on your point of view. Minsky’s vision might sound vaguely familiar.
After the first virtual-reality machines hit the marketplace around 1989, feverish journalists hailed them as electronic LSD, trippy illusion machines that might entice the user in and then never let him out. Sociologists fretted that our culture, maybe even our species, would whither away. When the actual experience of virtual reality turned out to be more like trying to play Pac-Man with a bowling ball taped to your head, the talk died down. To his credit, Minsky recognizes that the merger of human and machine lies quite a few years away.
While physical health has improved in most parts of the world over the past century, mental health is getting worse. The World Health Organization estimates that 500 million people around the world suffer from a psychological disorder.
By 2020, depression will likely be the second leading cause of death and lost productivity, right behind cardiovascular disease. Increasing human life spans may actually intensify the problem, because people have more years to experience the loneliness and infirmity of old age. Americans over 65 already are disproportionately likely to commit suicide.
Gregory Stock, a biophysicist at the University of California at Los Angeles, believes medical science will soon allow people to live to be 200 or older. If such an extended life span becomes common, it will pose unfathomable social and psychological challenges. Perhaps 200 years of accumulated sensations will overload the human brain, leading to a new kind of insanity or fostering the spread of doomsday cults, determined to reclaim life’s endpoint. Perhaps the current trends of depression and suicide among the elderly will continue. One possible solution- promoting a certain kind of mental well-being with psychoactive drugs such as Prozac- heads into uncharted waters. Researchers have no good data on the long-term effects of taking these medicines.