Dr. Fergus Simpson, a cosmologist with the University of Barcelona, recently wrote an academic paper that gives the human race a solid 13% chance that it won’t see the end of this century. Entitled Apocalypse Now? Reviving the Doomsday Argument, Simpson outlines that in any given year, humanity has a 1 in 500 shot at meeting its proverbial maker.
Simpson states that,
…it would be naive in the extreme to believe that the annual risk of global catastrophe is vanishingly small.
It really makes one think about life. There you are, looking at your computer, and everything seems so safe and normal doesn’t it? Apart from the frightening reality that you are a simple little meat body held to a rock by gravity as it spins and races around a massive ball of burning hydrogen gas at an insanely fast rate. Even though our existence is fragile, at best, Simpson is much more concerned about humanity’s ability to end itself, rather than some fluke natural disaster. Not worried? It’ll all be fine? Simpson writes,
At a time when at least eight sovereign states are in possession of nuclear weapons, a head-in-the-sand approach appears both dangerous and irresponsible…
However, the threat of one single “kaboom” is only the tip of the iceberg. According to a 2016 document released by the Global Challenges Foundation, humanity has some serious problems to face. The report, expanding into the next five years, outlines the top doomsday scenarios. The number one destroyer of the human race is slated to be a natural pandemic; most likely some kind of super-bug, probably caused by all that fancy smelling anti-bacterial hand wash we buy when it goes on sale for ‘5 for $12’.
Second and third place? Nuclear war and an engineered pandemic respectively. However, while these have high odds of killing us, the report states that the risk of these events occurring are low. The secondary list opens up a whole other “can” of worry. In first place, catastrophic climate change. Followed by a catastrophic disruption by AI, and the failure of geo-engineering.
The list contains a few rogue catastrophes as well, such as a super-volcanic eruption, asteroids, and one simply entitled, “Unknown risks” which will help everyone reading the report sleep more soundly.
Whether Dr. Simpson is right in his mathematics or not, there is nothing more worrisome than the end of the species. If the end is nigh, there is little one can do to stop it. However, Simpson concludes by stating,
We may not be able to evade the inevitable altogether, but as with our personal life expectancy, it is within our power to delay it.
As Yogi Berra timelessly reminds us, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”