In other words, a closed finite state system must either become static or else start repeating itself. If we assume that the system has already been around for an eternity, then this eventual outcome must already have come about; i. The proviso that the system has only a finite number of states may not be as significant as it seems, for even a system that has an infinite number of possible states may only have finitely many perceptibly different possible states. In the actual world, the cyclical view is false because the world had a beginning a finite time ago.
The human species has existed for a mere two hundred thousand years or so, and this is far from enough time for it to have experienced all possible conditions and permutations of which the system of humans and their environment is capable. More fundamentally, the reason why the cyclical view is false is that the universe itself has existed for only a finite amount of time. The history of the universe has its own directionality: an ineluctable increase in entropy. During its process of entropy increase, the universe has progressed through a sequence of distinct stages.
In the eventful first three seconds, a number of transitions occurred, including probably a period of inflation, reheating, and symmetry breaking. These were followed, later, by nucleosynthesis, expansion, cooling, and formation of galaxies, stars, and planets, including Earth circa 4. The oldest undisputed fossils are about 3. Evolution of more complex organisms was a slow process. It took some 1. The agricultural revolution began in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East 10, years ago, and the rest is history. The size of the human population, which was about 5 million when we were living as hunter-gatherers 10, years ago, had grown to about million by the year 1; it reached one billion in AD; and today over 6.
All techno-hype aside, it is striking how recent many of the events are that define what we take to be the modern human condition. If compress the time scale such that the Earth formed one year ago, then Homo sapiens evolved less than 12 minutes ago, agriculture began a little over one minute ago, the Industrial Revolution took place less than 2 seconds ago, the electronic computer was invented 0.
Almost all the volume of the universe is ultra-high vacuum, and almost all of the tiny material specks in this vacuum are so hot or so cold, so dense or so dilute, as to be utterly inhospitable to organic life. Spatially as well as temporally, our situation is an anomaly.
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Given the technocentric perspective adopted here, and in light of our incomplete but substantial knowledge of human history and its place in the universe, how might we structure our expectations of things to come? Unless the human species lasts literally forever, it will some time cease to exist. In that case, the long-term future of humanity is easy to describe: extinction.
An estimated There are two different ways in which the human species could become extinct: one, by evolving or developing or transforming into one or more new species or life forms, sufficiently different from what came before so as no longer to count as Homo sapiens; the other, by simply dying out, without any meaningful replacement or continuation. Of course, a transformed continuant of the human species might itself eventually terminate, and perhaps there will be a point where all life comes to an end; so scenarios involving the first type of extinction may eventually converge into the second kind of scenario of complete annihilation.
We postpone discussion of transformation scenarios to a later section, and we shall not here discuss the possible existence of fundamental physical limitations to the survival of intelligent life in the universe. This section focuses on the direct form of extinction annihilation occurring within any very long, but not astronomically long, time horizon — we could say one hundred thousand years for specificity. Human extinction risks have received less scholarly attention than they deserve.
In recent years, there have been approximately three serious books and one major paper on this topic. As I introduced the term, an existential disaster is one that causes either the annihilation of Earth-originating intelligent life or the permanent and drastic curtailment of its potential for future desirable development. It is possible that a publication bias is responsible for the alarming picture presented by these opinions. Scholars who believe that the threats to human survival are severe might be more likely to write books on the topic, making the threat of extinction seem greater than it really is.
The greatest extinction risks and existential risks more generally arise from human activity. Our species has survived volcanic eruptions, meteoric impacts, and other natural hazards for tens of thousands of years.
It seems unlikely that any of these old risks should exterminate us in the near future. By contrast, human civilization is introducing many novel phenomena into the world, ranging from nuclear weapons to designer pathogens to high-energy particle colliders. The most severe existential risks of this century derive from expected technological developments.
Advances in biotechnology might make it possible to design new viruses that combine the easy contagion and mutability of the influenza virus with the lethality of HIV.
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Molecular nanotechnology might make it possible to create weapons systems with a destructive power dwarfing that of both thermonuclear bombs and biowarfare agents. The same technologies that will pose these risks will also help us to mitigate some risks. Biotechnology can help us develop better diagnostics, vaccines, and anti-viral drugs. Molecular nanotechnology could offer even stronger prophylactics. Extinction risks constitute an especially severe subset of what could go badly wrong for humanity. There are many possible global catastrophes that would cause immense worldwide damage, maybe even the collapse of modern civilization, yet fall short of terminating the human species.
An all-out nuclear war between Russia and the United States might be an example of a global catastrophe that would be unlikely to result in extinction. What distinguishes extinction and other existential catastrophes is that a comeback is impossible. A non-existential disaster causing the breakdown of global civilization is, from the perspective of humanity as a whole, a potentially recoverable setback: a giant massacre for man, a small misstep for mankind. This takes us to the second family of scenarios: recurrent collapse.
Environmental threats seem to have displaced nuclear holocaust as the chief specter haunting the public imagination. Current-day pessimists about the future often focus on the environmental problems facing the growing world population, worrying that our wasteful and polluting ways are unsustainable and potentially ruinous to human civilization. The credit for having handed the environmental movement its initial impetus is often given to Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring sounded the alarm on pesticides and synthetic chemicals that were being released into the environment with allegedly devastating effects on wildlife and human health.
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In recent years, the spotlight of environmental concern has shifted to global climate change. The final estimate is fraught with uncertainty because of uncertainty about what the default rate of emissions of greenhouse gases will be over the century, uncertainty about the climate sensitivity parameter, and uncertainty about other factors.
The IPCC therefore expresses its assessment in terms of six different climate scenarios based on different models and different assumptions. Tainter notes that societies need to secure certain resources such as food, energy, and natural resources in order to sustain their populations. At some point, Tainter argues, the marginal returns on these investments in social complexity become unfavorable, and societies that do not manage to scale back when their organizational overheads become too large eventually face collapse.
Diamond argues that many past cases of societal collapse have involved environmental factors such as deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems, water management problems, overhunting and overfishing, the effects of introduced species, human population growth, and increased per-capita impact of people. We need to distinguish different classes of scenarios involving societal collapse. First, we may have a merely local collapse: individual societies can collapse, but this is unlikely to have a determining effect on the future of humanity if other advanced societies survive and take up where the failed societies left off.
All historical examples of collapse have been of this kind.
Second, we might suppose that new kinds of threat e. Suppose that a global societal collapse were to occur. What happens next?dachligamasa.cf
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If the collapse is of such a nature that a new advanced global civilization can never be rebuilt, the outcome would qualify as an existential disaster. However, it is hard to think of a plausible collapse which the human species survives but which nevertheless makes it permanently impossible to rebuild civilization. Supposing, therefore, that a new technologically advanced civilization is eventually rebuilt, what is the fate of this resurgent civilization? Again, there are two possibilities.
The new civilization might avoid collapse; and in the following two sections we will examine what could happen to such a sustainable global civilization. Alternatively, the new civilization collapses again, and the cycle repeats. If eventually a sustainable civilization arises, we reach the kind of scenario that the following sections will discuss.
If instead one of the collapses leads to extinction, then we have the kind of scenario that was discussed in the previous section. The remaining case is that we face a cycle of indefinitely repeating collapse and regeneration see figure 1. While there are many conceivable explanations for why an advanced society might collapse, only a subset of these explanations could plausibly account for an unending pattern of collapse and regeneration. An explanation for such a cycle could not rely on some contingent factor that would apply to only some advanced civilizations and not others, or to a factor that an advanced civilization would have a realistic chance of counteracting; for if such a factor were responsible, one would expect that the collapse-regeneration pattern would at some point be broken when the right circumstances finally enabled an advanced civilization to overcome the obstacles to sustainability.
Yet at the same time, the postulated cause for collapse could not be so powerful as to cause the extinction of the human species.
A recurrent collapse scenario consequently requires a carefully calibrated homeostatic mechanism that keeps the level of civilization confined within a relatively narrow interval, as illustrated in figure 1. We turn now to the second of these possibilities, that the human condition will reach a kind of stasis, either immediately or after undergoing one of more cycles of collapse-regeneration. Figure 2 depicts two possible trajectories, one representing an increase followed by a permanent plateau, the other representing stasis at or close to the current status quo.
The static view is implausible. If the world economy continues to grow at the same pace as in the last half century, then by the world will be seven times richer than it is today. World population is predicted to increase to just over 9 billion in , so average wealth would also increase dramatically. A single modest-sized country might then have as much wealth as the entire world has at the present.
Over the course of human history, the doubling time of the world economy has been drastically reduced on several occasions, such as in the agricultural transition and the Industrial Revolution.
Should another such transition should occur in this century, the world economy might be several orders of magnitudes larger by the end of the century. Figure 2: Two trajectories: increase followed by plateau; or stasis at close to the current level. Another reason for assigning a low probability to the static view is that we can foresee various specific technological advances that will give humans important new capacities. Virtual reality environments will constitute an expanding fraction of our experience.