Great Britain has formed a think tank consisting of the country’s academic elite who are creating a doomsday list to be studied by such scientific luminaries as Stephen Hawking and Skype co-founder Jann Tallinn, amongst others. The brain trust will produce a comprehensive list of threats that could destroy our planet in the hopes that man can save himself from complete obliteration.
Royal Astronomer Lord Martin Rees is the head of the trust and the group has accumulated a sequence of events that have a “low probability” of happening but will produce cataclysmic results. Results that could be caused by humanity itself in the near future.
The list includes risks such as cyber attacks on world finance, utilities and transport. Manufactured bioweapons in the form of scientifically created viruses. They have even developed a scenario where computers could, similar to the plot in The Terminator, become self aware and attempt to destroy mankind.
The world of politics focusses upon the devastation of the world by nuclear war while the brain trust will focus on, amongst other things, new technological problems that could hamper governments from dealing with disastrous events. Scientists will also look at asteroid impact, extreme and unusual climate changed weather; a highly contagious pandemic or world wide food shortages caused, again, by climate changes.
The group will look at the probability of each event and calculate which has the highest chance of occurring. They will then develop a plan meant to protect the world against the disastrous events.
The “doomsday list” group of scientists are part of the Centre for Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University and it was founded in November 2012. The group has been growing steadily since that time and has increased the number of scientists in its membership.
Lord Rees spoke of the Center and at the British Science Festival at Newcastle on Thursday September 12 at the end of the festival. He explained that the group has expanded its international matrix of experts and that they now have specialists in economic infrastructure; computer science; conservation biologists, and geneticists as well as robotics experts.
The scientists in the group, of which Stephen Hawking is a part, will study the doomsday list and broaden the possible events as the group continues to grow and adapt.
In his speech, Lord Rees explained that our modern-day existence is limited by its dependence on power grids, computerized functions, air traffic control, and finance that utilize new technology that could “render” us helpless in new ways. These “networks” can be brought to a grinding halt by rare and cataclysmic events that would create a sort of domino effect through the modern system.
Rees also stated that pandemics could only be limited by the time it took a jet to arrive at a new destination. This speed of contagion would create a maximum amount of devastation and bring huge cities to their knees. But the spread of biological pandemics would not be the only threat. Lees said that psychic contamination, such as panic and rumors could be spread over the internet at the “speed of light.”
It was pointed out that the more natural disasters, such as super storms, earthquakes and plagues have been weathered successfully by man and governments. The think tank will be looking mainly at threats caused specifically by mankind. These threats are new and undefined as yet. The timescale for developing plans of action is tighter.
One member of the trust, Professor David Spiegelhalter pointed out that the threat of an asteroid striking the planet is an “existential threat”. But he also points out that there is very little we can do about stopping such an event from occurring.
Like Lord Rees, Professor Spiegelhalter feels it is modern man’s complete reliance on technology that puts the world in such a weak position to react to that scale of catastrophe. He says that our global system is interconnected for too many things. Food, money, and power are all open to being sabotaged and creating worldwide havoc.
Lord Rees concluded that modern man is in a state of denial. The low percentages of cataclysmic events has left the public with little understanding of just how disastrous and devastating out-of-control climate change; cyber terrorism; or biological warfare could be.
People, according to the former president of the Royal Society, worry more about plane crashes, foods that cause cancer and radiation poisoning. Rees maintains that it is this denial about the worldwide problems that leave us open to continue our attack on the biosphere. It also leaves us vulnerable to mistakes or purposeful attacks on our interconnected computerized world.
The Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk is attempting to raise more funding to allow for a greater range of research ventures. The think tank, which includes the most famous scientist in the world, Stephen Hawking will continue to study the doomsday list and attempt to come up with scenarios that will hopefully keep mankind from worldwide obliteration.
By Michael Smith