"The probability of an existential catastrophe facing humanity in the next hundred years is one in six." Australian philosopher Toby Ord predicts in his new book, The Precipice of Peril. In which nuclear war, climate change, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering ...... any one of which goes wrong is enough to bring about the end of humanity.
"And there is no chance of trial and error with these disasters; once they happen they are irreversible. Humanity is now on the precipice of existential risk, and it is up to humanity to make the choice at this critical time whether to let the risk go, or to be proactive in establishing emergency mechanisms to begin to control the development of risk to ensure that humanity avoids existential disaster." Toby Alder begins.
In the book, the author firstly points out the critical situation of mankind at present, and then he turns to link the future of mankind, which is uncertain and may even lead to self-destruction at any time, with the wisdom of mankind. According to Aude, "Humanity is like an adolescent child, rapidly developing physically, lagging in intelligence and self-control, with little thought for its long-term future and an unhealthy appetite for risk." While humans' technology is progressing rapidly and their power has grown considerably, their intelligence is developing at a stuttering pace that is far from keeping up with their technological progress and increased power. Therefore, humans today still lack the necessary maturity, collaboration and foresight to avoid making irreparable mistakes. For a human race with a growing gap between power and intelligence, it will either act in time to protect itself and humanity's long-term development potential, or it will lose the opportunity to turn the situation around forever.
The subtitle of The Precipice is "Survival Risk and the Future of Humanity" - as the name implies, it is an exploration of the survival risks that threaten humanity's long-term development potential and how to plan for its future. Survival risks" include both natural risks, such as asteroid or comet collisions, super volcanic eruptions, stellar explosions, and other natural contingencies, and man-made risks, such as climate change, environmental destruction, pandemics, and even nuclear weapons. The former, although devastating, but the probability of occurrence is not high; the latter, although "man-made risks", but at any time mankind will be in danger - especially the emergence of nuclear weapons, but also to push mankind to the edge of the precipice.
In fact, since the birth of mankind, it is true that we have gained more and more ability to transform nature, but it is also this ability that gives mankind the power to cause maximum destruction. Humans themselves may have caused more risk than all natural risk combined, and when for the first time in their long history they have power strong enough to destroy themselves, they risk never reaching the distant future again! The destructive power of mankind had suddenly become so powerful that it was for this reason that Aude set the beginning of the precipice period at 11:29 a.m. on July 16, 1945, the moment when nuclear testing began.
Unpredictable natural risks
If no accidents had happened, the history of mankind would actually have just begun. About 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens appeared on the African savannah; about 70,000 years ago, humans first ventured into Australia ...... They went further and further, gradually spreading all over the world.
Humans have developed so well not because of how physically strong they are, but because of their mental capacity, and their good cooperation with each other. It is because humans have excellent mental abilities and good cooperative relationships that their situation has become better and better, and thus through three major transitions: the agricultural revolution, the scientific revolution and the industrial revolution, they have entered the present era of advanced technology and economic prosperity.
However, for the long history of mankind, this is only the beginning. In the past, there have been many times on the earth enough to wipe out all the achievements of mankind, but mankind has always been reborn, and their civilization is constantly changing, the trend of progress is clearly visible; in the future, mankind will benefit from the technological innovations they have accumulated over the centuries, but of course, they still inevitably need to face all kinds of risks from nature --Such risks are not only real, but also pose a major threat to the future survival of mankind. Despite their increasing ability to master nature, humans still have many blind spots in their exploration of nature, and they remain vulnerable to natural disasters.
In 1980, some geoscientists were keen to discover that the geological boundary between the Cretaceous and the Paleocene was rich in iridium, an element that is extremely rare on the Earth's surface but very common in asteroids. They thus associated with the end of the Cretaceous period that caused the disappearance of dinosaurs of the biological extinction, and then concluded that it was the collision of asteroids with the Earth, so that iridium everywhere, forming a dark dust cloud and inhibit photosynthesis, and finally caused the biological extinction of the conclusion.
Ten years later, they did find conclusive evidence, a huge crater that matched all the characteristics of that era was found, sixty-six million years of geological activity buried it under thousands of meters of rock layers that were later formed, and the results of gravity testing, which showed a high-density granite impact ring caused by meteorite collisions ...... Earth is vulnerable to asteroid and comet impacts, and a serious threat to human survival, this became the consensus of mankind.
It is not only asteroid and comet impacts that pose an existential risk to humans, but also super volcanic eruptions, stellar explosions, and other natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes. Although the probability of these natural disasters is very low, but all of them have been unaware of the risks that humans have been suffering, and in the long run, they may also lead to human extinction or the permanent collapse of civilization, so they should still draw sufficient attention to humans.
Of course, the current knowledge structure of mankind is still incomplete, and it is still too early to assert that mankind has discovered all natural extinction mechanisms.
Man-made risks are more pressing
The man-made risks that humans face are actually more urgent than the natural risks that occur in the future. According to Aude's prediction, in the next hundred years, the man-made risks faced by human beings are about a thousand times higher than the natural risks, especially with the emergence of nuclear weapons, the extinction of human beings has changed from a distant possibility to an imminent danger. Therefore, compared with natural risks, man-made risks should be the focus of human attention nowadays.
On October 27, 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, a Soviet submarine lost contact with its command center while in the blockade in the waters off Cuba. A U.S. warship on the blockade line detected the Soviet submarine and dropped depth charges to warn it. The Soviet captain, in turn, after several days of deep diving and with ventilation completely damaged, prepared to launch the nuclear torpedo they were carrying to counter the U.S. warning. And once the Soviet submarine fired this nuclear torpedo, the U.S. would immediately retaliate by firing a nuclear bomb as well.
In the nick of time, the fleet commander on board the Soviet submarine stopped the captain's risky move, allowing mankind to escape a nuclear war that could have destroyed half the planet. ...... This was the closest risk of nuclear war to mankind, and although it eventually passed us by, it is proof that even a seemingly unsuspected eventuality could have plunged mankind into a doomsday situation.
The immediate dangers of nuclear war cannot be overstated; it would also lead to a nuclear winter, with black soot blocking out the sun and making the world cold, dark and dry, with major global crops dying and billions of people facing famine. At its peak, in 1986, the world's stockpile of nuclear warheads was said to number more than 70,000, and as of today, although the number of warheads has declined dramatically, it still retains a sizeable stockpile of about 14,000. These nuclear bombs have always been the sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of mankind, and could trigger a worldwide nuclear war at any time, pushing mankind to the brink of self-destruction.
In contrast to the harshness and tragedy of nuclear risks, climate change and environmental destruction, while less immediately damaging to humanity, can also destroy the potential for human development and lead to the collapse of civilization to the point of no return. The Earth's atmosphere is vital to life because it provides the pressure needed for liquid water to exist on the planet's surface, the stability to avoid excessive diurnal temperature differences, the gases that plants and animals need, and the right temperature to keep the planet cool and warm ...... When the industrial revolution released the energy that lay dormant in fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions increased dramatically, followed by warming, the greenhouse effect, ocean acidification, collapse of the Gulf Stream, water scarcity, rising sea levels, and with it, reduced crop yields, increased tropical diseases, massive biodiversity loss, and vast tracts of land unfit for human habitation due to water scarcity.
In addition, things like pandemics, artificial intelligence and biotechnology of unaligned value, and the biological warfare, terrorist attacks, etc. associated with them have the potential to change the fate of individual nations and alter the course of world history. When the earth's resources are finally depleted and the ecosystem services are completely lost, human beings will have to pay for what they have done and thus swallow the bad consequences they have sown.
How should humanity survive the precipice period
Comparing the harm caused to humans by natural risks and man-made risks, it can be seen that there is actually no absolute boundary between them, because some risks, although naturally occurring, are greatly exacerbated by human activities. Therefore, in essence, it is not possible to separate natural risks from man-made risks; they are originally two sides of the same coin of the existential risks faced by human beings, and both have the potential to cause the collapse of civilization and the extinction of human beings.
So, how should we avoid existential risks and plan the future of human beings more rationally for the present?
First, Aude classifies human existential risks as natural and man-made, known and unknown, near-term and long-term, and categorizes, compares, and quantifies them separately, thus identifying the different characteristics and probabilities of occurrence among them. Aude believes that the best way to avoid existential risks is to act early, and if we ever go down the wrong path, it is best to correct it at an early stage - including research, education and long-term impact, all of which can be achieved with half the effort the earlier we start.
Aude's strategy for humanity's survivability is to achieve survival security, long-term reflection, and the development of development potential.
Humans tend to focus only on the present, on immediate and visible benefits, but rarely on the future. However, even those who are concerned about the future need to focus most of their attention on ensuring that humanity has a future. Only after achieving existential security, and without making any fatal mistakes, can humans compare the various futures available to them, further determine which future is best, and thus achieve long-term human sustainability and the development of their own development potential.
It is true, as Aude said: "People are just as important no matter what era they live in. Our lives are just as important as the lives of those who lived thousands of years ago or a thousand years from now." Indeed, human beings not only have an obligation to those who came before them, but they also have a responsibility to future generations. Only by considering humanity as a whole, or a community of interest, and truly realizing that each generation is a part of a long history, and that their important role lies in how they shape history and what they leave behind for the future, will they be able to think about the future and do something about it, and humanity will be able to effectively avoid existential risks and safely survive the precipice period.