A new report on the greatest existential threats facing mankind makes for a surprisingly good read, skipping all of the heavy stuff like the meaninglessness and futility of life and diving straight into the exciting stuff like nuclear destruction, biological warfare, and bloodthirsty bots. Composed by researchers from Cambridge University’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), the report aims to help governments better understand the ways in which we are likely to destroy ourselves, so that action can be taken to try to prevent this.
The report divides these potentially world-ending risks into distinct categories, beginning with environmental destruction and climate change. Warning against reaching a “tipping point”, the authors explain that irreversible melting of ice sheets or the destabilization of global weather patterns could lead to “shortages in the food, water and energy required for survival by mid-century.”
Next up are the technological threats, with a particular focus on the “malicious or accidentally harmful use of artificial intelligence.” Even AI systems that are designed with benevolent intentions could one day develop the capacity to reassess their own goals and values, according to the report. Machines that can autonomously pursue those goals could overpower their human creators and even wipe them out, depending on the fiendishness of their new robo-agenda.
Biological threats are also identified, with the authors explaining that, as bioengineering becomes increasingly sophisticated, “more nefarious hands could (as they have before) develop pathogens and toxins to spread through air, food and water sources.”
With gene editing also advancing at an impressive rate, the researchers even mention the possibility of villainous warlords creating bio-weapons that only affect people with certain genetic profiles, thereby targeting specific ethnic groups.
Nuclear war and natural disasters are also discussed in the report, which thankfully provides 59 suggestions for governments wishing to better understand and counteract these threats to our existence. Nothing, however, can be done about the other existential issues like the isolation and irrelevance of our lives.