The Possible 12 most likely causes of the Apocalypse and ways the world will end

February 15, 2015 9:23 pm

Intelligent computers that take over the world and an incurable virus
that kills off the human race might sound like plots worthy of a
Hollywood blockbuster – but scientists insist they are real threats.
They are just two of the 12 ways the world could end, according to new research.
A
team from Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute and the
Global Challenges Foundation has come up with the first serious
scientific assessment of the apocalyptic risks we face.
A few of
the scenarios arise from events that are out of our control – such as an
asteroid hitting the Earth or the eruption of a supervolcano – but most
emerge from human advancements.

Some of these developments, particularly those that are
technological, have the potential to bring great benefits humans – but
could also lead to our demise.

Some developments could have the potential to bring great benefits
humans – but could also lead to our demise. File photo / Thinkstock

The report states: ‘This is a
scientific assessment about the possibility of oblivion, certainly, but
even more it is a call for action based on the assumption that humanity
is able to rise to challenges and turn them into opportunities.’
Global pandemic
An
apocalyptic disease would be incurable (like Ebola), nearly always
fatal (like rabies), extremely infectious (like the common cold) and
have long incubation periods (like HIV).
If these devastating
features were to occur in a single pathogen – influenza is already
capable of combining features from different viruses – then the death
toll would be extreme.
While significant resources have been
dedicated to medical research and combating disease, modern transport
and dense populations allow infections to spread quickly.
Supervolcano
The
danger of a supervolcano – one capable of producing an eruption 1,000
times larger than normal – is the amount of aerosols and dust sent into
the atmosphere.
This dust would absorb the Sun’s rays and cause a
global ‘volcanic winter’ – with effects similar to those of an asteroid
impact or a nuclear war.
With technology currently available, there is little that could be done to prevent the damage.
Artificial intelligence
Perhaps
the most-discussed apocalyptic threat of the moment, this refers to the
development of machines and software with human-level intelligence.
Such
intelligences could not be easily controlled – either by the groups
creating them, or some international body – and would probably be able
to boost their own intelligence.
And if they decide humanity if of no value, they will be driven to build a world without humans.
But such artificial intelligence could easily combat most other risks in the report – making it a tool of great potential.
At
the moment, no one knows whether there is a real risk of extreme
machine intelligence and the researchers therefore give it a wide
estimate of probability.
Extreme
Scientists
currently predict climate change caused by human activity – adding
carbon dioxide to the atmosphere – could mean average global
temperatures increase by 4C.
But there is a risk that the warming could be much more extreme than the estimates suggest – and rise up to 6C.
The
impact would be strongest in poorer countries, which would become
uninhabitable, the research concludes, and lead to mass deaths, famines
and mass migration.
Synthetic biology
Genetic
engineering of super-organisms could be beneficial for humanity. But
the release of a super-organism that targets humans, or a crucial part
of the ecosystem, could end in disaster.
This could either be
leaked accidentally – unintentionally from a laboratory – or
deliberately – in instances of bio-warfare or bio-.
The impact could be worse than any natural pandemic.
Currently, attempts at regulation or self-regulation are in their infancy, and may not develop as fast as research does.
Asteroid impact
It might sound like the stuff of -fiction – but a major asteroid impact could lead to the end of the world.
Large
asteroid collisions – with objects 5 km or more in size – happen about
once every 20 million years and would have an a 100,000 times
greater than the largest bomb ever detonated.
A land impact would destroy an area the size of a nation like the Netherlands.
Should
an asteroid hit, destruction would be caused by the clouds of dust shot
into the atmosphere – affecting climate, food supplies and creating
political instability – rather than the initial impact.
Ecological collapse
A complete breakdown of the global ecosystem – often leading to mass extinction.
The
likelihood of this depends on the extent to which humans are dependent
on the ecosystem. Some lifestyles, for example, could be sustained if
they were independent from the network.
Whether this can be
achieved on a large scale in practice, especially during a collapse,
will be a technological challenge, and whether it is something that is
wanted, is an ethical question.
Nanotechnology
Super-precise
manufacturing on an atomic level could create materials with new
properties – such as being highly resilient or ‘smart’ – that would be
highly beneficial.
These manufacturing technologies could offer
some of the world’s biggest problems – including the depletion of
natural resources, , climate change, clean water and even
.
But it could also lead to the creation of large
arsenals of conventional or more novel weapons made possible by
atomically precise manufacturing.
Nuclear war
The fear of an apocalyptic nuclear war between Russia and the US gripped the global community for decades.
That
threat may have reduced, but the potential for deliberate or accidental
nuclear conflict has not been reduced, with some estimates putting the
risk in the next century at around 10 per cent.
Whether the war
has a larger impact would depend on whether it triggered a ‘nuclear
winter’ – the creation of a cloud of smoke high in the atmosphere that
would block the Sun’s rays, plunging temperatures below freezing, and
possibly destroy the ozone layer.
In order for this to happen, the bombs would have to start massive firebombs that could lift the dust into the atmosphere.
The
effects would lead to the disintegration of the global food supply –
making widespread starvation and the collapse of states likely.
Bad local governance
This
refers to two main categories of government disasters – failing to
solve major solvable problems and actively causing worse outcomes.
An example of the first would be failing to alleviate absolute poverty; of the second, constructing a global totalitarian state.
Changes
in technology, politics and society could lead to the creation of
better governments, but it could also give us those that are much worse.
Global system collapse
This
broad term refers to an economic or societal collapse on a global scale
that involves civil unrest and a breakdown of law and order that makes
the continuation of human life impossible on Earth.
There are too
many unknown factors to predict how likely this outcome would be but
such effects have been observed in intricately-connected systems like
ecology and finance.
The possibility of collapse is more acute when several networks depend on each other.
Unknown consequences
An
umbrella category that represents all of the unknown unknowns – risks
we have not thought about or appear extremely unlikely in isolation.
Together they recommend a significant apocalyptic threat.

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