The extinction of the human race . . . what a downer! Let’s discuss it anyway.
The fact that some event could pick us off the skin of the earth and flick us into the cosmic trashcan like a discarded scab is endlessly fascinating to me, not to mention great material for stories. You’ve probably already considered the Big Ones like nuclear extermination, globe-cracking asteroids, super-plagues, and climate change sizzling us like ants under a magnifying glass, but humans are imaginative if nothing else, so let’s look at some of the lesser known (but still nifty) ways we could kick the bucket as a species. Here are my four most recent finds about possible collective destruction:
The pace of miniaturization continues to accelerate, and this is most apparent in the field of computer technology. Every year our phones and tablets get smaller and thinner, but with more processing power. Remember those awesome, “cutting-edge” satellite phones from the 80s? If you fast forward to the present, we can see technological miniaturization in action!
Quite a difference, right? Enter nanotechnology. According to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, nanotech is the “science, engineering, and technology” of the “study and application of extremely small things” that “can be used across all the other science fields, such as chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, and engineering.” The idea is that, within a few decades, we may be able to build atomic-scale machines that can assemble and replicate themselves to “perform surgery from inside a patient, build any desired product from simple raw materials, or explore other worlds,” just to name a few. That’s just ducky, as long as we don’t weaponize them . . . because people never transform benevolent objects into weapons, do they? Einstein’s famous equation, anyone?
Theoretically, if these tiny machines were hijacked for some villainous purpose, they “could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly, and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days.” Wow, that sucks. However, even “more pessimistic souls, such as Bill Joy, a cofounder of Sun Microsystems, envisions nano-machines as the perfect precision military or terrorist tools.” No need to send in troops when we can just crop dust a city and let the machines do the work!
Will we weaponize these little lifesavers, or will humanity only use them for good?
3. Mass Insanity
I know, I know, the world is crazy enough, but your wacky uncle who is convinced the government is watching everyone (it is), and the fervent beliefs of that other political party, may just be the tip of the iceberg. You see, as people live longer and longer lives, psychological disorders may increase over a given life span. Things that worked themselves out via the Great Equalizer—death—may simply get worse as you hit a midlife crisis around the age of 150 or so.
Discover Magazine recently stated that “by 2020, depression will likely be the second leading cause of death and lost productivity, right behind cardiovascular disease. Increasing human life spans may actually intensify the problem, because people have more years to experience the loneliness and infirmity of old age. Americans over 65 already are disproportionately likely to commit suicide.” Well, that’s pleasant! It gets better, too. If we get to the point that people live for centuries, then these life spans “will pose unfathomable social and psychological challenges.” It’s possible that “200 years of accumulated sensations will overload the human brain, leading to a new kind of insanity or fostering the spread of doomsday cults, determined to reclaim life’s endpoint.”
Seems like good material for a story. Hmmm . . .
2. Degenerating DNA
This one was news to me, but not good news. It might be the most chilling because it’s more of a “when will it happen” scenario rather than a “what if” scenario.
I never considered what would happen if the blueprint for the human race started to degrade. According to some sources, this seems to be happening right now. An article in Viral Nova recently stated that “our bodies are significantly weaker and more prone to disease than we previously were. Our reliance on medical technology has made our bodies soft and vulnerable, and there is nothing we can do about it.” We are “currently carrying thousands of genetic mutations in our DNA and each generation we create more. Our bodies are more prone than ever to become infected with cancer and other fatal diseases.”
So the mutations that put us at the top of the food chain can also put us in the grave. Sweet. Surely it stops there, right? Its not just disease that’s making us more vulnerable, is it?
According to Dr. John Sanford of Cornell University, “every one of us already carries tens of thousands of harmful mutations, and each of us will pass on approximately 100 new mutations to future generations. Humanity is degenerating at an accelerating pace, and at some point the number of mutations will become so great that we will no longer be able to produce viable offspring.”
So there it is, weakening bodies and no more kids. Seems like a potent recipe for disaster, but don’t worry, this theory estimates that we have about 6,000 years before we reach the end, so it’s not likely you or I will be around to see it, unless #3 comes to pass. Not very comforting, is it?
1. Uploaded Consciousness
This one is my favorite. A lot of people think we’ll eventually create artificial intelligence. It’s been a staple of sci-fi books and movies for years, but will we ever create artificial consciousness? Does being intelligent mean that a thing is conscious? Since no one can really explain consciousness, it’s worth considering that consciousness may be “an emergent property of intricately configured matter—what some philosophers call panpsychism”—and not something that we can write code for with ones and zeros.
Say you’re terminally ill, but instead of dying, just before your physical body kicks the bucket, you upload your memories and feelings, everything you’ve ever experienced, to a massive virtual reality where you could live forever in digital space with billions of other people. Sounds awesome to me. Ah, but if we can’t write code for consciousness, then these “uploads would be a form of suicide; the end result would be an apparent version of you, but there would be nobody home.” This could turn into a “nightmare scenario in which everyone on the planet has uploaded themselves into oblivion, resulting in billions of mindless automatons running around like bots in a video game.”
Now that’s creepy!