Geniuses Predict End Of World, FOR decades Hollywood has been making films about the end of the world and how, sometimes, plucky humans manage to avert it.
Now some of the world’s finest minds have come together to draw up some real-life doomsday scenarios – and work out how mankind could avoid being wiped out.
From killer computers to crippling cyber-attacks by terrorists using the internet to the release of engineered diseases, the members of the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk warn that the future could be far from rosy.
But once the threats have been identified the group – led by Astronomer Royal Martin Rees and including Stephen Hawking – intends to devise ways of “ensuring our own species has a long-term future”.
Although nuclear annihilation and a giant asteroid obliterating the planet remain distinct, if unlikely, possibilities, Lord Rees believes “the main threats to sustained human existence now come from people, not from nature”.
Other scenarios being considered by the 27-strong group – which also involves academics from Oxford, Imperial, Harvard and Berkeley – include extreme weather, fast-spreading pandemics, and war or sabotage resulting in a shortage of food and resources.
Speaking at the British Science Festival at Newcastle University, Lord Rees said: “In future decades, events with low probability but catastrophic consequences may loom high on the political agenda.
“That’s why some of us in Cambridge – both natural and social scientists – plan, with colleagues at Oxford and elsewhere, to inaugurate a research programme to compile a more complete register of these ‘existential risks’, and to assess how to enhance resilience against the more credible ones.”
Lord Rees’s co-founders in CSER are Jaan Tallinn, one of the people behind internet phone service Skype, and Cambridge philosopher Professor Huw Price.
The group says in its manifesto: “Our goal is to steer a small fraction of Cambridge’s great intellectual resources … to the task of ensuring that our own species has a long-term future. In the process, we hope to make it a little more certain that we humans will be around to celebrate the university’s own millennium, now less than two centuries hence.”