Martin J Rees Foreword

Wells gave a lecture at the Royal Institution in London, highlighting the risk of global disaster 'It is impossible', proclaimed the young Wells, 'to show why certain things should not utterly destroy and end the human race and story why night should not presently come down and make all our dreams and efforts vain. something from space, or pestilence, or some great disease of the atmosphere, some trailing cometary poison, some great emanation of vapour from the interior of the...

Doomsday Argument

The Doomsday Argument (DA) is an anthropic argument purporting to show that we have systematically underestimated the probability that humankind will become extinct relatively soon. Originated by the astrophysicist Brandon Carter and developed at length by the philosopher John Leslie,8 DA purports to show that we have neglected to fully take into account the indexical information residing in the fact about when in the history of the human species we exist. Leslie (1996) - in what can be...

Risks from unintended consequences

We have already encountered climate change - in the form of sudden global cooling -as a destructive modality of super-eruptions and large impacts (as well as possible consequence of large-scale nuclear war, to be discussed later). Yet it is the risk of gradual global warming brought about by greenhouse gas emissions that has most strongly captured the public imagination in recent years. Anthropogenic climate change has become the poster child of global threats. Global warming commandeers a...

Suggestions for further reading

Longing for the End A History of Millennialism in Western Civilization (London St. Martin's Press). A history of apocalyptic expectations from Zoroastrianism to Waco. Cohn, N. (1999). The Pursuit of the Millennium Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (New York Oxford University Press, 1961,1970,1999). The classic text on medieval millennialism. Devotes much attention to Communism and Nazism. Heard, A. (1999). Apocalypse Pretty Soon...

Fermis paradox

Fermi's paradox also known as the 'Great Silence' problem consists in the tension between 1 naturalistic origin of life and intelligence, as well as astrophysical sizes and ages of our Galaxy and 2 the absence of extraterrestrials in the Solar System, or any other traces of extraterrestrial intelligent activities in the universe.10 In particular, the lack of macroengineering or astroengineering activities observable from interstellar distances tells us that it is not the case that life evolves...

Contents

Nick Bostrom and Milan M. Cirkovic. 1.2 Taxonomy and 1.3 Part I 1.4 Part II Risks from 1.5 Part III Risks from unintended Part I. 2. Fred C. Adams . Long-term astrophysical 2.1 Introduction physical 2.2 Fate of the 2.3 Isolation of the local 2.4 Collision with 2.5 The end of stellar 2.6 The era of degenerate 2.7 The era of black 2.8 The Dark Era and 2.9 Life and information 2.10 Suggestions for further 3. Christopher Wills. Evolution theory and the future of 3.2 The causes of...

The conjunction fallacy

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. Rank the following statements from most probable to least probable 1. Linda is a teacher in an elementary school. 2. Linda works in a bookstore and takes Yoga classes. 3. Linda is active in the feminist movement. 4. Linda is a psychiatric social worker. 5. Linda is a...

Conclusion

Why should there be an organized body of thinking about existential risks Falling asteroids are not like engineered superviruses physics disasters are not like nanotechnological wars. Why not consider each of these problems separately If someone proposes a physics disaster, then the committee convened to analyze the problem must obviously include physicists. But someone on that committee should also know how terribly dangerous it is to have an answer in your mind before you finish asking the...

Peter Taylor Catastrophes and insurance

This chapter explores the way financial losses associated with catastrophes can be mitigated by insurance. It covers what insurers mean by catastrophe and risk, and how computer modelling techniques have tamed the problem of quantitative estimation of many hitherto intractable extreme risks. Having assessed where these techniques work well, it explains why they can be expected to fall short in describing emerging global catastrophic risks such as threats from biotechnology. The chapter ends...