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[…] Apocalometer […]
yawn. For 90% of the population, the rise of NRx is a far more frightening horror than any of these futurist bromides.
Rising sea levels are more plausible and likely to happen soon that the methane gun going off?
Infographics remain the lowest class of information dispersal.
If it doesn’t give readings on a scale from It Hasn’t Even Begun to through It’s Happened and You Could Have Prevented This to It’s Over, I don’t even want to know.
The graphic is a good window into the deluded prog mindset of the author. “Overpopulation” is more likely to lead to the extinction of humanity than nuclear war? Right.
(And then there’s how the nuclear war entry itself of course name-checks the discredited Soviet propaganda about nuclear winter, or some variation on global warming receiving six entries, all of which are apparently as or more dangerous to humanity than nuclear war).
yesyesyes Reply:January 16th, 2015 at 6:46 pm
One of the greatest social projects in the history of mankind is the ongoing maximization of the African population. Fathomless resources have been poured into it.
Your raw material is a tribal continent living in post-colonial borders, where women have 8 children and 6 of them die, resulting in population equilibrium. Western altruists/masochists can’t stand for this, so their first course of action is to make sure that all those 8 babies have enough food to eat.
The African population goes *foom*, soon outstripping our ability to feed it. Enter Norman Borlaug and other heroes who use the advanced engineering resources of the West (which native Africans probably would need 10,000 years to match) to cook up scientific miracles and avoid the population hitting an immediate Malthusian limit in the 1970s.
Tropical diseases push back against the increasing human population, no longer constrained by food supply. AIDs, malaria, ebola, et al fight to keep the human population in check. But Westerners interfere with billions of dollars in capital and advanced anti-retroviral drugs, the sum product of the work of 10s of thousands of PHDs cranking away in first world labs. The population continues to grow.
“Malthusian” thinking is discredited because of that moment in the 1970s when upcoming food limits were temporarily solved. Scientists console themselves by thinking that Africans will lower their fertility as they get richer, like Westerners did.
But the African population isn’t slowing its growth as the models, trained on Eurasians, predict. Populations that were recently living in hunter-gatherer tribes don’t react in the same ways of populations living in high-density civilizations for thousands of years. The West developed unconscious cultural mechanisms to manage Malthusian limits a long time ago (i.e. the bride dowry required in early modern France had the effect of adjusting the marriage age upward in hard economic times, moderating population growth).
So we’ve recently “nudged” our estimate for African population in 2100 upward, from 2 billion to 4 billion. Might that still be an underestimate? And when will it stop? When, pray tell, will the African population follow their western peers and become too obsessed with iPads and higher education in order to fuck?
The basic rule of ecology holds – a population will expand until it exhausts a limited resource, then it will stop. If humans remove a limit (usually food, by feeding the animals), then it will grow until it exhausts the next most limited resource, usually with catastrophic effects for the surrounding ecosystem which isn’t adapted to such high population density.
The wilderness of Africa, the characteristic megafauna of the human homeland, is certainly fucked on a continent of 4 billion Africans struggling for survival. How much bigger will the blast radius grow?
snorlax Reply:January 17th, 2015 at 2:42 pm
I’d agree that mass famine is likely in Africa by the end of this century, although that’s not exactly going to lead to human extinction, or even human extinction in Africa.
There’s a case to be made that explosion in the African population combined with unlimited immigration and low white birthrates could lead to the extinction of whites, possibly humanity if the post-white regimes get their hands on a substantial number of nukes (although I’m sure the Chinese would prevent that from happening).
[…] Source: Outside In […]
Nanoweapons and “grey goo” are essentially the same thing. So how is one rated “4” and the other “1”? Especially as, if anything, runaway-killer-nanobots are more likely to be unleashed accidentally, by idiots who simply don’t know what they’re doing, as opposed to intentionally as part of some war effort.
“Posthumanity” is not a doomsday scenario; it is the inevitable evolution of the best of mankind. Instead of “checking our bucket list”, we should do everything we can to immanentize the posthuman eschaton.
E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Reply:January 16th, 2015 at 4:56 pm
“Posthuman” is still a potential doomsday. Depends on how we think about ‘human’:
1. Human in the sense of our present biology
2. Human in the sense of the spiritual character of man (thought, uniqueness, will, etc)
I agree wholeheartedly on the first, our present biology is not guaranteed nor necessary. Anyone who dreads a post-human state re: our biology is doomed anyway, these bodies don’t last and neither will the universe. If you believe in the next, it’s not the same kind of body that lasts forever.
In the second, it would be a godawful stupid error to accidentally de-humanize everyone. If anyone would succeed it would be the progressives, with or without genetic engineering.
Lucian Reply:January 17th, 2015 at 12:07 am
It seems to me that any of the elements of the ‘spiritual’ character of human you list could be equally well possessed by non human entities?
Umm, I’m trying to be proactive in my prepper work for these contingencies, Should I use one- or two-ply sandbags in case of gray goo?
use hemp, it slows them down, duuuude
This Apocalometer is great. It’s exactly the right discussion to have. The key is weighting both the risks AND the preparatory response. If you can privatize the responses your odds of avoiding the risks rise. Exhibits A, B and C being peak oil, drowning in horse carcasses and overpopulation generally. All have been avoided largely by private sector responses: Oil drilling, cars and condoms/the Pill.
Looking through the list my bet would be on nano-weapons. One of the big lessons from the Ebola non-pandemic was that the more contagious something is, the quicker it flames out. So you would really need a consciously evil sort of plague — one that was created by man — to truly wipe everybody out.
But of course the guys working the other side of that — i.e. nano-weapon defense shields — could stand to make a bundle if they could foresee the nature of the nano-threat.
One group already making a killing on food degradation is Young Living, founded by a former Mormon. They do close to $1 billion in sales of essential oils and supplements made therefrom. They have like 2 million customers in the US, all Multi-level marketing.
Erebus Reply:January 16th, 2015 at 5:28 pm
Humanity can deploy countermeasures against most of the items on that list. A supervolcano eruption shall be catastrophic, but probably wouldn’t even come close to wiping out human life on Earth. The same goes for rising sea levels, loss of topsoil, and even an asteroid impact. To say nothing of nonsense like underpopulation, overpopulation, and the risible threat of “posthumanity”. For better or worse, humans are a resilient and adaptable species.
Not taking aliens or black holes into account, the true threats are malign AI, poorly-programmed grey goo nanobots, and rogue synthetic biology. I’d bet that the AI threat is the worst of the lot, because it’s the most feasible in the near term. Let’s forget about superintelligence for a moment — when accelerated human brain emulation becomes possible, all bets are off.
I work with nanotech. We’ve gotten pretty good at making nanotubes that don’t have many practical uses, functionalized fullerenes, organic nanocrystals, quantum dots, and ever larger (but still rather small) sheets of graphene. These nanosubstances mostly find their way into composite materials — e.g. batteries, golf clubs, and printer ink. The road to “grey goo” is a long and arduous one from here. The path to artificial general intelligence seems easier, to me.
Aeroguy Reply:January 16th, 2015 at 9:22 pm
“grey goo” even has it’s own limitations. Due to the small size it has very limited ability in keeping it’s own temperature stable. So like micro-organisms, any single given strain of swarming nano-machine is going to need to be adapted for operation in a particular temperature range that is significantly smaller than what humans can deal with. Things that wreak micro-organisms would also tend to wreak nano-machines (since they operate under the exact same thermodynamic constraints, complex molecules are fragile), they’ll be very easy to cook or freeze. Something as simple as a steep temperature gradient surrounding a building should be an effective barrier to a nano-swarm.
Erebus Reply:January 17th, 2015 at 1:20 pm
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that you’re assuming that they’d be subject to the same constraints as biological agents. I don’t know if this is necessarily the case — needless to say, nonbiological materials tend to be stable and operable over a far wider range of temperatures and pressures than biologicals. The fact that DNA isn’t thermally stable at temperatures as low as 94°C forms the foundation of the much-loved polymerase chain reaction — and proteins are folded with noncovalent bonds, which are even easier to denature, e.g. at temperatures not much higher than 50°C. Microbes, such as the psychrophiles, have a temperature range that their enzymes and cell membranes are optimized for, and they don’t function properly outside that range. But it’s important to note that Freitas/Drexler-style diamondoid nanobots would be stable over a temperature range an order of magnitude broader; additionally, the fact that they’d be magnificently effective thermal conductors is worth pondering. Temperature changes would diffuse through them with extreme rapidity — well over 1000x faster than the same temperature changes would diffuse through biological substances. This means that these diamondoid nanobots could possess a very fast thermal response, due to ‘built in’ temperature sensors of extreme sensitivity. They’d make our mammalian thermosensors, the TRP class of proteins, look slow and foolish in comparison.
Thinking out loud: I don’t think that these bots would be a “complex molecule” as such. They’d be more machine-like. They’d probably have a shell, a minuscule pump or motor, and a simple central processing nucleus attached to extremely small integrated sensors of various limited capabilities. All of these components would presumably be manufactured of hard carbon — e.g. nanotubes, graphene, diamondoid materials — or from a different abundant hard material, such as silicon carbide or perhaps aluminium oxynitride. They presumably wouldn’t be manufactured out of useful, but scarcer, elements such as titanium, boron, tungsten, and palladium. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first prototypes of their kind are larger than 1-250µm. Tardigrade-sized bots, perhaps… Hopefully with tardigrade-esque resiliency.
With that out of the way, there are many other issues with “grey goo” and nanomachines in general. For one thing, I don’t know if attempts to fabricate diamondoid or carbide nano-robots at atmospheric pressure & with low energy input are feasible. And, if we are to presume that they’re feasible, I don’t know if these processes are rapid enough to pose a threat to humanity. For another, extreme temperature changes can probably affect nanobot sensors and movement. And then there are presumably many other ways to affect their sensors, their ability to move, and their capacity to generate and store energy. Grey goo is only a doomsday scenario if we’ve got tremendously capable and adaptable self-reproducing nanobots. Their ability to adapt to their environments would have to be like that of microorganisms accelerated a few billionfold; they’d have to be quick and diffuse enough so that some fraction of their population survives any attempt we could make at destroying them; and they’d have to be voracious.
…Given the current state of the art, I’d say that we have nothing to worry about at the present time. Practical nanomachinery is something that’s feasible within the next few decades, but I’d bet that it’ll take a lot longer than that for it to become capable of overcoming all defenses and overrunning our planet. In the near-term, AI is probably the greater threat.
(Interestingly, in his new book Nick Bostrom suggests that if we get AI right, and if it comes before rogue nanobots, it will be able to apply countermeasures to the risks associated with nanotechnology. To quote: “If we create superintelligence first, we will face only those existential risks that are associated with superintelligence; whereas if we create nanotechnology first, we will face the risks of nanotechnology and then, additionally, the risk of superintelligence.)
Y.Ilan Reply:January 17th, 2015 at 11:03 am
Hopefully the unrelated clueless question doesn’t bother you, but would you say that studying materials engineering/science together with chemistry is a good way to get the tools and knowledge necessary in order to manufacture/develop the manufacture of useful nanomaterials? Would an individual need a Master’s/PhD as well, in order to get the requisite knowledge and understanding?
Erebus Reply:January 17th, 2015 at 3:29 pm
Of course I’m not bothered!
There are two general rules which apply right now:
-There are way more jobs in academy than there are in industry, unless you are Chinese or South Korean.
(And I’d add: If you somehow find work in China, the hours shall be long, the conditions poor, and the pay generally quite low. You’ll also be working mostly on process-development related issues, e.g. how to scale-up production & find the easiest, cheapest ways to make basic nanomaterials. As for Korea, Samsung is where much of the really interesting applied-nanotech research is going on right now, but their main research center is somewhere near Seoul, they require “a master’s degree with at least 5 years of work experience or a doctoral degree”, and I hear that they do very little hiring of non-Korean nationals.)
-If you want an academic research job, the more credentialed you are, the better. A Ph.D. with solid postdoc experience would be best. You’d be hard-pressed to find an interesting job with only a bachelor’s degree. If you manage to find anything at all, it’ll involve drudgery like washing the glassware, running administrative errands for the research staff and postdocs, and making sure the dimethylformamide is stocked.
Chemjobber is a blog that does a pretty good job of tracking the chemistry job market. There are always some B.S.-level chem jobs out there, but they’re not very good, and they tend to have nothing to do with nanotechnology per se.
Ah, anyway, materials science and organic chemistry would definitely be a good background to have. Nanotechnology is a multidisciplinary field, but those are definitely two key components. In some ways, they’re the most integral and basic, so they’d make for a good foundation. Some other relevant disciplines might include optical engineering, microelectronic/computer engineering, bionics and biomimetics.
Y.Ilan Reply:January 17th, 2015 at 3:51 pm
Thanks a lot for your perspective! I’m soon going to start studying at the Technion here in Israel, so obviously I’m curious about the real world out there. Yeah, a second degree if not a PhD seems to be a must for the actual interesting stuff. which makes sense.
Erebus Reply:January 17th, 2015 at 6:13 pm
No worries! Best of luck. If we’re both still around here in four years, and if you’ve decided to look for work instead of pursuing your master’s degree, hit me up. I might be able to help out, and I’d at least put in a good word for you. I’ve actually done some business with ApNano in Israel before, and am considering using their tungsten sulfide nanotubes in a commercial composite product. (Investigating the possibility, which can involve a whole lot of trial and error!) They’re good guys.
Izak Reply:January 16th, 2015 at 8:23 pm
I have an anti-apocalypse sensibility, or at least I’m against the exploitation of apocalypse fears within political discourse. But I, too, like this chart. It de-emphasizes the need to fight for pure survival by assuring us that our doom will always win out over our vain attempts to last forever. So my starting position is validated: the need for greatness outweighs the need for longevity.
the biggest problem with future ai is that in all likelyhood it will be consummate progressives programming it.
doubtlessly they will try to remove any possible margin of danger in their perspective, create some air-tight ideological box that will guarantee safety in any case. well, as the saying goes; the ‘perfect’ is the enemy of the good.
as we have seen, it is those very attempts to make totalised, universal systems that wrap being up in a neat bow, the lionization of some contingent concept as the meterstick by which all matters can be weighed, the creation of an automised framework to be all things to all people, useable by any class of being, that are the most obdurate and heinous intellectual abortions.
isint it just lovely, that very fear of destruction by ai, making it so much more certain.
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