The 7 Biggest Existential Threats to Humanity, According to the Experts
How will the human race meet its end? There are many possibilities, but a few apocalyptic scenarios have taken hold of the public consciousness recently, especially with experts like Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Nick Bostrom waiting in the wings to tell us exactly how we'll meet our grisly fate. Here are seven possible apocalypses, courtesy of some of the greatest minds in the world:
I put this first, not because it's necessarily the most likely, but because it has received the most attention in the media lately. Stephen Hawking claimed "AI could spell the end of the human race," Elon Musk likened AI to "summoning the demon" and donated $10 million in order to ensure that AI research is "beneficial." Oxford's Nick Bostrom claimed that technological advancement is a greater threat to humanity than global warming. Very respected minds are really afraid of AI right now, let's just put that out there.
Honey Bee Extinction
While many experts argue that AI is not nearly as close to the singularity as the aforementioned experts would have you believe, and global warming has slowed down, if only slightly, so it hasn't been making the news as much recently. But the imminent honey bee extinction is a real threat to our food supplies. In a recent presidential memoranda, Barack Obama stated, "Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States. Over the past few decades, there has been a significant loss of pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, from the environment. The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment."
We all know that this is possible, as the human race is in possession of more than enough nuclear weapons to all but wipe out the human race. "The human failing I would most like to correct is aggression," Stephen Hawking said recently at a conference. "It may have had survival advantage in caveman days, to get more food, territory or partner with whom to reproduce, but now it threatens to destroy us all."
Hostile or Imperialist Aliens
When we think of scenarios involving nefarious alien contact, it often entails the aliens destroying us out of malice. And there is a chance that they would destroy us on purpose, either because they're evil or because they're convinced we are. But if they're simply a lot like humans/Americans, they would probably treat us like we tend to treat foreign civilizations, and destroy us out of sheer self-interest.
Stephen Hawking is quoted as saying, "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."
The recent Ebola crisis, though not a pandemic and very much overblown by Americans, very much opened people's eyes to the possibility of some kind of superbug proliferating through our cities. Bill Gates was recently quoted as saying that we should be preparing for the next pandemic just as we do for war: "We don't know it will happen but it's a high enough chance that one of the lessons of Ebola should be to ask ourselves: are we as ready for that as we should be? A good comparison is that we prepare ourselves for war — we have planes and training and we practice."
This is not a particularly popular one, but one expert, the manager of the Elliot Management hedge fund, recently claimed that we should be more worried about worldwide blackout from EMPs than nuclear war. People are really into inflammatory comparisons recently.
As threats to humanity go, this is a more abstract one, but it is still on many experts' minds. Thinkers such as Nick Bostrom and philosopher David Roden are concerned that we will eventually genetically modify humans to the point that they're essentially no longer human, or "posthuman." According to these experts, this will, at first widen the gap between the rich and the poor, and ultimately, the human race as we know it will cease to exist.