As we near the end of the 2019’s first month let’s make ourselves feel better about breaking our New Year’s resolutions by contemplating how all life on our little blue marble of a planet could come to an end.
- Nuclear War
While some argue that we live in the most peaceful time in human history it doesn’t change the fact that we still have nuclear weapons – a doomsday threat to all life on the planet.
Most countries are loathe to share details on their nuclear stockpile, but estimates put the total known nuclear weapons at about 17,000. Of that number, over 9,000 are in active military service. What’s more, nuclear-capable countries are actively modernising their arsenals.
In 2017 famed scientist Professor Stephen Hawking said, ‘There is no sign of conflict lessening, and the development of militarised technology and weapons of mass destruction could make that disastrous.’
Current armed conflicts in the world include the Syrian Civil War, the Yemeni Civil War, plus the terrorist tactics of a multitude of armed factions. Scary to think it could all end at the press of a button if any one of them got their hands on the wrong weapons.
- Artificial Intelligence Uprising
Advancements in artificial intelligence have speeded up dramatically in last decade. Mega-multinationals such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, have been at the forefront of development to the point where AI has made it into our homes thanks to virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa.
And AI is not just capable of interacting with us, it is designed to learn by itself. In 2014 an AI taught itself to play the Chinese strategy board game Go without any help from a human. Then in 2017 an AI proved it could beat professional DOTA 2 players after just two weeks of practice.
At this rate it mightn’t be long before artificial intelligence eclipses human intelligence. A future scenario reminiscent of the Terminator film series could see a sentient AI overthrow its human masters – taking over the world and annihilating us in the process.
Elon Musk is a prominent critic of the potential dangers of AI and has called for regulation. ‘It needs to be a public body that has insight and then oversight to confirm that everyone is developing AI safely. This is extremely important,’ Musk said during his appearance at SXSW last year.
Nor is he coy about how big a threat he thinks AI is, adding, ‘Mark my words, AI is far more dangerous than nukes. Far. So why do we have no regulatory oversight? This is insane.’ He might have a point.
- Asteroid Armageddon
Just like the dinosaurs we are vulnerable to huge speeding rocks hurtling in from outer space. Oftentimes we see them well in advance and can predict whether they will hit us or not.
NASA predicts a 22-million-ton asteroid named Apophis, that was once feared to be on a collision course with Earth, will instead perform a close flyby of our little planet, thereby averting certain catastrophe.
However, we don’t always see them coming. Just last year Asteroid 2018 GE3 buzzed by us closer than half the distance between us and the moon. Not a huge deal, but we saw it less than a day before it zipped past.
GE3 was estimated to be between 48 to 110 metres in diameter, not big enough to spell extinction for life on Earth. Still, it could have caused tremendous regional damage, especially if it had hit a populated area.
It makes you wonder how many other asteroids are zooming through the depths of space, heading in our direction without our knowledge.