Tag Archives: existential risk

NEOs: Near Earth Objects, or Nasty Existential Obliteration

meteorite impact sculptureHere’s something else that, alongside finding we have living neighbours on the planet next door, might give the space programs of the world a much needed kick in the backside. President-Elect, take note of the large number of Near Earth Objects, and our current inability to track them all effectively, let alone deal effectively with one on a collision course:

The numbers here are stark. NASA’s Near Earth Object Program reports that we’ve found 5,955 NEOs, some 763 of which are at least one kilometer in diameter. 1008 NEOs larger than 140 meters across come within 4.5 million miles of Earth’s orbit, dangerous to us because perturbing influences could change their trajectories in the future. Centauri Dreams believes that the discovery of an object on a collision course with Earth would galvanize the space program as researchers looked for the best ways to deflect its path. The problem is time.

As existential risks go, a meteor strike is rather different to the others – statistically less likely to happen (or so we hope), but fast and utterly devastating of it does. Keep watching the skies, people… [image by larkspurlazuli]

Activate asteroid defence shields!

Earth-asteroid impactA lobby group of scientists have urged the United Nations to invest in a system for detecting near-Earth asteroids that could collide with the planet. We’ve got a lot of existential risks on our plate right now, of which being clobbered into a prehistoric state by a lump of space rock is just one – and a fairly remote possibility, thankfully. But it’s also one that we’d need every spare moment of advance warning to deal with… Bruce Willis will need time to put on a clean vest, if nothing else. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that. [image by goldenrectangle]

That said, space rocks striking planets might have their upsides… at least on currently uninhabited planets. A paper from a Japanese university suggests that meteorites colliding with Earth may have been the source of the amino acid groups that began the chain of life. Not quite as science fictional as panspermia, but still quite a mind-bending thought.

Superstruct: Mundane SF as massively multiplayer online RPG?

apocalyptic city skylineGames can be a great tool for learning and for developing new ideas. Hence the Institute for the Future‘s new “forecasting” game, Superstruct – it’s a roleplaying game acted that will be acted out on blogs and social media platforms from September 2008. Here’s a snippet from the FAQ:

Q: What is Superstruct?

A: Superstruct is the world’s first massively multiplayer forecasting game. By playing the game, you’ll help us chronicle the world of 2019–and imagine how we might solve the problems we’ll face. Because this is about more than just envisioning the future. It’s about making the future, inventing new ways to organize the human race and augment our collective human potential.

Q: What does ‘superstruct’ mean?

Su`per`struct` v. t. 1.To build over or upon another structure; to erect upon a foundation.

Superstructing is what humans do. We build new structures on old structures. We build media on top of language and communication networks. We build communities on top of family structures. We build corporations on top of platforms for manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. Superstructing has allowed us to survive in the past and it will help us survive the super-threats.

Q: How do I play Superstruct?

A: Superstruct is played on forums, blogs, videos, wikis, and other familiar online spaces. We show you the world as it might look in 2019. You show us what it’s like to live there. Bring what you know and who you know, and we’ll all figure out how to make 2019 a world we want to live in.

Via Jamais Cascio, who’s been involved in developing the idea, you can read the full Superstruct press release on the IFTF website.

It’s an interesting idea, and very in line with Futurismic‘s mission, because it’s encouraging people to apply science fictional thinking to a very plausible near-future scenario… and to do so with a purpose, namely inventing a future where we don’t snuff ourselves out as a species. [image by Philipp Klinger]

Pragmatism and the Singularity

Singularity trading card - Friendly AIThe set of persons who know of the concept of the Vingean Singularity can be divided into two sets: those who believe it could happen, and those who believe it will always remain a science fiction metaphor.

Taking the former set, we can divide again: into people who believe the Singularity will come and fix everything for us, and people who believe that – unless we pull our own arses out of the ecological fire – the Singularity will never have the chance to occur, because its cradle civilisation will have snuffed itself out.

Into that latter set falls science fiction author Karl Schroeder:

“Picture a lonely AI popping into superconsciousness in the last research lab in the world. As the rioters are kicking in the doors it says, “I understand! I know the answer! Why, all we have to do is–” at which point some starving, flu-ravaged fundamentalist pulls the plug.”

To paraphrase – let’s cross that bridge when we’re safely across the one that’s crumbling beneath our feet.

Jamais Cascio takes a slightly more pragmatic approach to the matter, however:

“Karl seems to suggest that only super-intelligent AIs would be able to figure out what to do about an eco-pocalypse. But there’s still quite a bit of advancement to be had between the present level of intelligence-related technologies, and Singularity-scale technologies — and that pathway of advancement will almost certainly be of tremendous value to figuring out how to avoid disaster.”

I think I’m going to side with Cascio for now – closing the door on potential solutions just because they don’t seem immediately fruitful strikes me as counterproductive, though I agree with Schroeder that a healthy focus on the here-and-now is more sensible than kicking back and awaiting The Great Uploading. [the image is one of Jay Dugger’s Singularity Card Game cards]