back to article Worried we'll make ourselves extinct? Let’s be scientific about it

If you’ve got a nagging feeling that the emergence of autonomous weapons, bio-tech, all knowing computers, untracked asteroids, and the breakdown of political norms is all a bit of worry, congratulations. You’re aware of some of the key existential risks facing us all. But worrying might not be enough. To take action, we need …

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  1. jake Silver badge

    Well ...

    We've clearly stopped evolving as a species. And we all know what has happened to species in the past that have reached such an evolutionary dead end ...

    1. Andre Carneiro

      Re: Well ...

      You could argue that we haven’t reached an evolutionary dead end, merely the evolutionary pressure is off for the time being.

      Pretty sure that if natural selection started kicking in again we’d start evolving again as well.

      And crocodiles haven’t evolved much in quite a long time and still seem to be going strong.

      Regardless, this sounds like it could be quite an interesting evening...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Well ...

        merely the evolutionary pressure is off for the time being.

        Not at all. Just that the determinants are different to the past.

        In the US, evolution should make people more resistant to bullets, maybe even bullet proof eventually. In London, evolution will favour those who are able to dodge a knife stab. In Syria and Salisbury, evolution will favour those less susceptible to chemical poisons. And so forth.

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: Well ...

          In Syria and Salisbury, evolution will favour those less susceptible to chemical poisons. And so forth.

          Evolutionary pressure works in two cases. A) bottleneck event - for example black death (genetic markers from that are still detectable in Europe) today. B) constant pressure - for example spearfishing has made groupers on cyprus evolve a lovely lizard green coloration so you cannot see them in the sea grass unless they move.

          I think both Syrians and drained swamp dwellers will disagree with either.

          On a more serious note, there is little natural selection pressure of either type being applied so evolution has indeed stopped.

        2. Brangdon

          Re: Well ...

          There is now an evolutionary pressure in favour of remembering to change the batteries in your smoke detector.

          The pressure is low, because not many people die in fires, but some do (and sometimes their children die too), and so the selection bias exists. Human evolution may have slowed, but it hasn't stopped.

          (If you are reading this, take it as a reminder to check your own batteries. When did you last do it?)

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Well ...

            Remembering? We have machines for that. I have my computers remind me to check the the detectors on the equinoxes. My insurance company actually dropped my rates for this simple trick. (Only fell by a couple dozen bucks/year, but money's money.)

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Well ...

      We've clearly stopped evolving

      We haven't be around that long as a distinct species, so it's probably too early to make such a claim.

      However, evolution as we traditionally understand it, has been about the pressure on the offspring of organisms to better adapt their form to their environment than their forebears. We have adopted a different approach: we adapt the environment and we use technology to solve problems in timescales over which evolution would be ineffectual. We've essentially changed the meaning of "evolution" and I'd say its pace is rapidly increasing, though not necessarily to our ultimate advantage. But that's perfectly consistent with Darwin.

      1. handleoclast Silver badge

        Re: Well ...

        We've essentially changed the meaning of "evolution"

        No, you have changed the meaning. Biologists, however, continue to define evolution as the change of relative allele frequencies over time.

        As it happens, though, relative allele frequencies in humans are changing. Our inventiveness means that alleles which were formerly necessary for our survival no longer are necessary. Spectacles mean that alleles for good eyesight are no longer as important as they were, so their relative frequency is declining. So we are still evolving. It's just that we're evolving to become far more dependent upon our technology and less likely to survive without it.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well ...

      Jake suggested, "We've clearly stopped evolving as a species."

      Not at all. My 4N wife and I are doing our bit to reunite some long-separated genetic lines. Results are excellent.

      The next generation are, in my opinion, slightly more intelligent and better looking than the previous. Even if changing a wheel is not in their repertoire, and "there" spelling is awful.

      Perhaps you're referring to the reduction in child death rate. That part is true, but it is because we're evolving in a larger manner.

    4. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Well ...

      There is no evolutionary answer to a nuclear holocaust. If we suffered a nuclear holocaust/Carrington there may still be humans left but there are no evolutionary advantages to be gained from this - the people who will survive will survive by luck not some skill or advantageous protein. There may new evolutionary pressures then but human development is far more meme than gene these days.

      1. ravenviz
        Boffin

        Re: Well ...

        There is no evolutionary answer to a nuclear holocaust

        I believe evolutionary outcomes cannot be tied to any single specific event that we can know about. Sure we can look to the past and make judgement on events that may have had an impact at an evolutionary level, but we can really have no idea beyond speculation as to how a nuclear holocaust or any other event might affect humanity.

        After all, the randomness and causal events that promoted our evolution could in no way have been predicted before even the last 1 - 2 million years when our direct ancestors' genetic makeup was pretty much what it is today.

    5. Thyriaug

      Re: Well ...

      Evolution is the change to the gene pool over time.

      Since nothing much is killing us then it just means the genetic difference between people who have lots of kids and those who have few or none.

      There are obvious differences between groups of people who are having lots of kids and those who have few.

      You might not think that is evolution but that is how it is defined.

      1. handleoclast Silver badge

        Re: Well ...

        There are obvious differences between groups of people who are having lots of kids and those who have few.

        The central concept behind Kornbluth's The Marching Morons and The Little Black Bag. And also Idiocracy.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are a number of risks that they are avoiding.

    The sun expanding and burning up the earth then getting very cold.

    The eventual cool death of the universe, or the big crunch which will not be human friendly.

    Existential horror, when humanity find that there is no meaning in the universe, just existence. In this case extinction will be self-inflicted.

    We are all going to die eventually, and the human race will go extinct also. Anything that you do has no permanence or meaning. So why worry?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You missed the primary risk at present.

      The president of the United states having anger management issues within the first one hour after his prostate issues wake him - around 3-5 am Eastern. That by itself would is a danger to the world as it is and it has happened in the past. We survived that time.

      Unfortunately, due to the phase of the moon and planet locations it has coincided with the Prime Minister of Airstrip One attaching by mistake a dildo to her pants instead of the customary pantiliner and the president of France being ... the president of France.

      To add insult to injury we have the president of the Enemy suffering from being the only bare chested person in a region full of hairy gorillas (including some my progenitors). So he has to compensate for the lack of the traditional manliness treats for his region by any other mean he can find.

      That combined constitutes a larger threat to the existence of us as species that the previous biggest two:

      1. When we had a Soviet idiot banging with a shoe on the UN podium

      2. When we had a bunch of idiots in the NATO HQ which decided that direct participation of head of states in military exercises is a jolly good idea.

      I am going to skip the minor characters like ministers which think that nuclear states are secretaries from their previous job which they could bend over and spank on the display fireplace mantelpiece, pathological liars (on all sides), etc.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I mean, what you got to lose? You know, you come from nothing. You're going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

  4. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    Worried?

    Hoping more like.

  5. FrogsAndChips Bronze badge
    Coat

    I'd buy tickets...

    But I'm concerned we may no longer be around in 2 weeks.

    1. Swiss Anton

      Re: I'd buy tickets...

      Let's hope they do refunds if it is cancelled.

  6. BebopWeBop Silver badge

    Surely the application of some guesswork with a bit of bold on statistics rather than science?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But aren't we supposed to be dead by then?

    on April 23rd

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: But aren't we supposed to be dead by then?

      Err...

      Did you check the transit times for the USA 6th Fleet and Charles De Gaulle to the Eastern Mediterranean?

      The date may not be that far off (for once).

    2. DJV Silver badge

      Re: But aren't we supposed to be dead by then?

      Ah good, that will save having to do anything about all that GDPR crap!

  8. GIRZiM Bronze badge
    Facepalm

    Natural Selection != Evolution

    Repeat after me: evolution is the process of change (individually or en masse) from one state to another, not the process whereby whether the result of any evolution survives long enough to reproduce is determined by some criterion or other - that latter process is known as 'Natural Selection' and I will stop embarrassing myself by conflating the two in future.

    *sigh*

    Well, at least I won't have to make a note of the date in my calendar - I can just look here instead when I want a reminder.

    Regarding Niburu killing us all on April 23rd, don't be silly, my diary goes up to December 31st. It doesn't go any further than that though and I'm a bit worried to tell the truth - I haven't been able to track down any predictions about December 31st Jan 1st (what does the printer know that nobody else does?)

  9. Claptrap314 Bronze badge

    Indeed

    Adrian believes that a science of existential risk must be speculative and creative: “Which means we need to rethink what science looks like, and perhaps the role of scientists in society.”

    Since the very definition of science is to stop your stupid speculation & get your fingers dirty in a lab, he is clearly consistent.

    This looks to be another futurist snake oilman. I don't think I would cross the street to listen to him unless I was bored and wanting to do some trolling.

  10. Faux Science Slayer

    "Spencer Sorcery on Magic Gas" at FauxScienceSlayer.... there is NO CO2 forcing

    Nuclear Armageddon is our single greatest threat....staged provocation to tip stacked dominos....

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: "Spencer Sorcery on Magic Gas" at FauxScienceSlayer.... there is NO CO2 forcing

      Spamvertizing your loony web site again, Joseph A Olson? How surprising.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Alien

    Extinction is the norm !

    so you Earthlings would be going against the odds if you expect to live as a genus for too long.

    Given that the most successful beings in the Universe consumed whatever they can, reproduced much and died often. you seem on the face of it to be quite similar, though they on the other hand have no brain, are very small, tiny, in fact are diminutive. While humans have brain, notice some part of it is reasonably large, feel superior from such thoughts and demand the right to be Gods and live forever, yet cannot even dig a deep enough hole to bury their excrement sufficiently.

    So unless you intend on winding back your evolution to a period similar to those superior entities mentioned, you'll just have to accept the limited path you have created for yourselves.

    Best you earthlings can hope for is to launch yourselves into the void while others cling on to the planet until your star dumps a nebula.

  12. Qwertius

    Earth --- Harmless.

    Editorial update.

    Earth --- Mostly Harmless.

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