Could Artificial Intelligence wipe us out

I apologize for the lack of posts over the past 6 weeks or so. I’ve been ill, and I’ve been preoccupied with life as it exists, and I haven’t found much new material that would threaten the survival of humanity, civilization, or other existential threats. That is, unless one considers the outcome of the 2014 election in the United States, and the officials’ ideas about such things as foreign politics or wars to be a direct danger or existential threat to society or the world.

We’ve mainly focused on things humans could do deliberately or carelessly to endanger humankind’s existence, as well as natural occurrences which could endanger humankind’s existence. Some go further to endanger other species, or even the planet itself. This post goes a different way.

That is, Artificial Intelligence could eventually wipe us out. Consider: If machines become able to reason and capable of troubleshooting and repairing themselves – or each other – and design and build other intelligent machines. At some point, these machines may look at the efficiency of the world, or its sustainability, and determine that humans are not necessary for the machines’ survival, are detrimental to the survival of the world as a whole. They could decide that humans’ emotions and thus our unpredictability make calculations of the future more difficult – and decide that WE need to go.

Humans evolve, or change slowly over time, whereas the capabilities of machines can change overnight with a better program running them, or a better designed machine. Changes of a magnitude which might occur in several thousands of years could happen with machines almost instantaneously.

Read Cnet’s article, Stephen Hawking: Humans evolve slowly, AI could stomp us out In it, Hawking states:

AI “would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever increasing rate,” he mused. The result would quite simply be that this new, exalted intelligence would see no need for our cumbersome, turgid ways. Or, as he put it: “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

In May, Hawking warned that the goodness or evilness of AI would depend on who controls it.

In June,  he warned that AI could be a real danger to humanity. In short, he warned that if it ever came down to the science fiction staple of wars involving humans against robots, humans would lose.

In the full BBC interview , it is pointed out that this “rise of the robots” will occur within the next few decades. While it sounds like the title of some B-grade science fiction movie, it will be reality soon – barring, of course, any of the other scenarios mentioned in this blog happening sooner. I personally give that about a 50/50 chance!

This is not the only suggestion that AI poses a threat to humanity.  Tesla Motors’ boss Elon Musk wondered in October whether human kind will meet its end under the heels of a cruel and calculating artificial intelligence.  University of Oxford’s Prof Nick Bostrom, said that an AI-led apocalypse could engulf us within a century. Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering, wonders about the possibility of writing moral algorithms into software robust enough to stand up to super-smart software. Or, could the robots disable or alter their moral subroutines? Input from other experts in artificial intelligence have expressed their concerns – or their reasoning for it not being a concern in the BBC’s “Does rampant AI threaten humanity?”

Leaving out Isaac Azimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics, wherein robots are to protect human life, we must remember that those are from works of fiction.  Numerous books and movies have come out about this very topic. Reality may or may not play out as fiction would have it.  Robots are quite likely to reason that humans are redundant, unnecessary, or a threat to robots’ survival. And, if they become self-aware, who is to say that human survival is more important than robot survival? This will depend on who designed these robots, for what purpose, who controls them, and that person, organization, or government’s agenda.

Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) emerges en masse

Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) emerged in the US and other developed countries early this year, 2014. In February, I described this “New Polio-like disease“. Many, but not all, cases of a disease that led to breathing problems and lingering paralysis, like polio, were associated with EV-68. EV-D68 has some unique attributes for an Enterovirus. It is worthy of note that this “new” enterovirus-68 is related to polio viruses, has the same oral-fecal transmission that polio does  (another enterovirus), plus has attributes of a rhinovirus.

Now, EV-D68 is breaking out in the midwest – Iowa, Colorado, Missouri and Illinois. This mainly effects children – hundreds of whom are hospitalized with this infection, many are in intensive care. Many cases though do not seem to require hospitalization, and some are not serious enough to seek medical care over – or may be mistaken for a summer cold. Symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing and rash. Sometimes they can be accompanied by fever or wheezing. Fever may not be present with the disease. The CDC points out in a study of 19 of the hospitalized patients in Kansas City, “Notably, only five patients (26%) were febrile’. All of them had breathing distress, and all of them were admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit. A similar study in Chicago, in the same CDC report, among hospitalized patients confirmed with EV-68, only 18% had fevers.

It is transmitted the same way that colds are – through droplets of fluids from infected persons and surfaces they touch.

This virus, which has no vaccination. No antiviral medications have been shown effective in its control. Chances for severe illness increase if the person has other respiratory illnesses or conditions, such as asthma, tuberculosis, or others.

The virus can be contagious before the infected person realizes that they are sick!

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that you can help protect yourself from respiratory illnesses by following these steps:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid kissing, hugging, and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick

Note the problems with changing baby diapers. This virus is transmitted through the feces of infected individuals – and babies may have this virus. If those diapers are not disposed of properly – or are left unwrapped in a public trash container, such as may be found in a bathroom or city park, one may contact the virus by using the trash can.

Do not assume that babies – or your baby, has no contagious disease. EV-68 is seen most often among babies through teens. Note that being “cute” or “innocent” is not a barrier to all disease. Nope, not even if it is clean, fed a good or “all natural” diet, or lives in an upscale home.

Everyone needs to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds after touching such a surface. For more information, go into a restroom of an establishment that prepares or sells food, and read the instructions for how employees are to wash their hands, distributed by health departments.

 

 

Artificial superintelligent machines may doom humans

A recent article on Huffington Post, l contains an interview with Professor Nick Bostrom who believes that the biggest threat to human kind is artificial intelligent machines.

The reason that these superintelligent machines may try to destroy humans is that humans have the capability to shut them off – and prevent them from attaining their primary goal – whether that is to make a particular number of objects, make as many of them as they can,

At the same time, if they are used the other way, with adequate safeguards or a decision by the machines, they could alleviate many of the world’s problems, including hunger, disease, and war.

Professor Bostrom describes this threat in more detail in his upcoming book, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (ISBN: 9780199678112). The book will be released in September, 2014.

New strain of polio virus may infect vaccinated people

A mutated version of the polio virus may be the cause of the 2010 polio outbreak in the Republic of Congo. In that outbreak, fully half of the polio patients remembered having received the polio vaccination.

This version of polio is sufficiently mutated from the known forms of the polio virus, from which vaccines are made, that it does not provide full immunity from it. It appears that people with the ordinary polio vaccine are less likely to become ill with polio – it seems to provide some immunity, but it’s not sufficient to keep it away.

Polio vaccines must be modified to include this strain as well as the traditional 4 strains. If it is not, many people will become striken by polio. It will not remain confined to the Republic of Congo. The result of this could be devastating! Since vaccinated people will get this mutated form of polio, it will soon be viewed that the polio vaccine is not effective, and fewer will get it. That will allow the “traditional” strains of polio to start circulating as well. Moreover, the more conspiratorial types of people – including some Muslims who distrust vaccination programs as they are positive that something other than the vaccine from the disease, and upscale Americans who still believe Dr. Wakefield’s debunked claim that vaccines cause autism, are given more ammunition for their position, talking points, and convincing others. Some people have odd ideas of what “herd immunity” even is, and feel that they are covered by it, and don’t need vaccinations. If people getting the polio vaccine still get the virus, either 1) The vaccine is not effective, there’s no benefit to it, and there are risks (even spreading the virus). 2) It is not a vaccine, but something more ominous, such as an attempt to sterilize women.

Polio is a particular risk in the undeveloped world, without sanitation treatment. It is also a risk in countries such as the United States of America which has sanitation laws, has outlawed outdoor toilets, but has an ageing and crumbling infrastructure. These ageing sewage treatment plants are not always effective in stopping the spread of polio, which was a major reason they were put in place.

Even just one infected person, perhaps travelling from a country with polio in the wild, perhaps a US citizen returning home infected with polio after visiting a country with polio (mutated or “traditional”) – whether for business, pleasure, with the military, on a religions or humanitarian mission of some type, or other government purposes – and before that person knows they are infection, uses the toilet even once in a place where the wastewater treatment plant is leaking or dysfunctional, a whole new epidemic could take off.

A new push for vaccinations MUST include everyone, with those very few who have a documented medical reason why they cannot get the vaccination. A qualified physician must ascertain that the person is too ill to be able to have the vaccination, or is allergic to some of the ingredients. Even then, perhaps an alternative version of the vaccine could be made available for common allergies.

No religious, philosophical, or paranoid exemptions can be allowed. This vaccine must be given to everyone, free, without the requirements for receiving paid or for-profit medical treatment for any other matter.

Ebola epidemic

There is currently an epidemic of Ebola Virus. Nearly all of the cases have been seen in West Africa, concentrated in the countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

This is a particularly deadly outbreak. As of July 30th, more than 670 deaths and more than 1,200 infections. This number is climbing daily. This Ebola outbreak kills 55% of people it infects. (Corrected, thanks to Kathy’s comment) Comparatively, the plague outbreaks in the middle ages killed 25%-75% of those infected. Earlier epidemics of Zaire Ebola killed around 90% of those infected. This is not good news! The Ebola virus is becoming less deadly to its human hosts, allowing it to survive without the virus burning itself out.

 

Ebola is a hemorrhagic disease, causing uncontrollable bleeding leading to death. It is not spread through the air, but rather through contact with a patient or infected animals or their bodily fluids, including blood, sweat, saliva, vomit, or excrement.

A few of these cases are of particular concern. For instance, a patient in Sierra Leone was forcibly taken from the quarrantine in a hospital by the family, treated with traditional medicine, was found, and died in the ambulance returning to the hospital. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/27/us-health-ebola-africa-idUSKBN0FV0NL20140727. Another, possibly of greater concern, died in Lagos, Nigeria, after arriving on a flight. Lagos, Nigeria is a city of 21 million people, most of whom live in abject poverty with little hygiene. This disease could spread rapidly in such an environment.

It is no longer considered safe for healthcare workers, most of whom are caring for the sick out of altruism, mostly with groups such as the Peace Corps, Doctors Without Borders, Samaritan’s Purse, or other organizations.

Doctors Without Borders says this epidemic is out of control. The Peace Corps said it was evacuating 340 volunteers from Liberia as well as neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone.

A Canadian physician, working in with Samaritan’s Purse, was first said to have put himself in quarantine after returning from Liberia. He has not tested positive for the disease, and now says quarantine is not the correct term. Two US healthcare workers, also working with Samaritan’s Purse, are in quarantine after having the disease when they returned home. One has died. Both were in quarantined in US hospitals after they returned. Two more Peace Corps volunteers are quarantined after contact with Ebola cases.

Somehow, even with the isolation suits, specifically designed to keep the worker/wearer of the suit out of contact with patients with a communicable disease, some of these workers have gotten the disease! They had them, they were trained how to wear them, they wore them even though the temperature inside the suit would get dangerously hot, and it still did not protect them! Either they did not observe these precautions or universal precautions 100% of the time, which is unlikely since they understood what the likely results of catching ebola would be, or this is not adequate to protect against ebola. Again, several organizations have decided that west Africa is no longer a safe place for their workers, even with protective equipment and training.

The patient identified in Lagos is of particular concern, since he demonstrates that a person infected with Ebola, although possibly not yet symptomatic, can board an aircraft and fly almost anywhere in the world, unwittingly spreading the disease. The European Union is concerned with Ebola spreading there, as there was a suspected patient in Spain, who tested negative after the incubation period was over – but it is possible that someone with the disease could spread it in Europe. There is concern about Ebola spreading to Asia as well, as reported by Japanese media.

In the UK, a Lyberian asylum-seeker developed Ebola days after arriving in Britain. He was tested upon arrival, and tested negative for the disease. However, it broke out days later, and tested positive.

The UK, Canada, US, and Hong Kong are taking precautions and being on the alert for passengers who look sick, especially after being in West Africa. Canada’s concern is documented in a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) video.

On a more somber note, it is known that terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, Boco Haram, or ISIS using this epidemic to spread terror. ISIS especially has a history of desicrating graves of the dead. Graves cannot be guarded 100% 24×7. As was pointed out in The Economist, one terrorist cell taking one ebola victim and putting blood or tissue from the body into water upstream from a city could cause massive infections – and panic and terror – anywhere in the world. Sure, it would lead to the deaths of terrorists, but as many of them value their cause more than they value their own lives, that would probably not stop them.

Experts say that ebola is unlikely to become an epidemic in the US. VOX gives a number of reasons why it could not become an epidemic in the US. They list how such an epidemic would probably go down:

  1. The first 24 hours: identify the outbreak  As I have pointed out in several other posts, the US medical system is poor at correct and early identification of disease.
  2. The next step: isolate the patient  Isolation in US hospitals is pretty hit-or-miss, due to the variable effectiveness of isolation rooms, isolation equipment, use of Universal Precautions, and patients’ contact with others. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0015174/ For instance, if a patient is taken to another part of the hospital, and the patient bleeds, vomits, or drops other fluids in the hallway, others may be exposed. In some hospitals, isolation rooms share the same ventilation system as the rest of the hospital, so airborne pathogens can be transmitted. However, ebola is not transmitted through the air. I experienced an especially eggredious instance of utter carelessnesses, recounted in my post on antibiotic bacteria. I fear they would not do any better with ebola.
  3. Track down other potential patients Fortunately, the United States is superb at being able to locate other potential patients, and those who a patient has been in contact with.
  4. Keep patients in hospital until they’re not a threat This is likely to be a problem in the US, with its for-profit health system having insurance companies as the gatekeepers. Insurance companies will likely, especially if this is a widespread problem, limit the number of days for hospital stays, or not authorize such things as isolation when it’s recommended. While this would be illegal, court cases take months or years to get through. The epidemic spreads in days.

Personally, I am not so sure that it would not become a serious, deadly epidemic in the US for these very reasons.

The US is not especially eager to accept quarantines, as has been demonstrated with the resistance to quarantining AIDS patients. Commercial insurance is not eager to pay for this, nor are individual patients – who usually cannot pay for a long-term isolation room. Ability to properly test and diagnose even common diseases is hardly outstanding, but very hit-or-miss, as anyone with an uncommon illness can attest. Moreover, as most US doctors have never seen a case of Ebola, as many of them have never seen cases of other once-common diseases, such as chickenpox, rubeola, or polio, this could become more problematic unless great effort is made to educate ALL healthcare workers on such diagnoses immediately. Even then, if ebola is on the forefront of their minds, many people will be misdiagnosed with ebola when they have a different health problem.

This could likely cause a severe problem in the US. That could be one of the reasons that tens of thousands of Central American children are emassed on the southern border of the US. Since Representative. Phil Gingrey (R, GA), himself a physician, says that some of these Central American children are carrying a multitude of diseases, including ebola. That claim is ludicrous on its face. Ebola is not native to Central America, these minors have not travelled to Africa, it’s unlikely they contacted anyone who had been to Africa or on a plane. Dr. Gingrey would have to know better, as a physician! If he really didn’t pay attention in school, certainly some of his staff could have before he publicly said it or wrote it in a letter to the Center for Disease Control.

I’ve long wondered about these children or minors, whether they are refugees or economic migrants, nothing substantial has changed to make Central America worse than it’s been for decades. Most of them say they are “escaping violence”, but the violence has remained at the same very high level in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador since the 1980s. Why are these “unaccompanied minors” coming to the US by the tens of thousands in 2014? They could be being set up as scapegoats. Certainly, if ebola becomes a major epidemic in the US, it will be much more convenient to blame the Central American minors on the border or the countries that sent them than to blame inadequacies in the US public health or healthcare system.

That would give the US military contractors something they could fight and win more easily than fighting against the spread of a deadly disease. Neither corporate nor government officials would not have to take the blame for their inadequacies. The liberals or progressives who have been urging the US to take all of these “children” in, without legally-required medical bills of health could also be blamed for an epidemic which neither they nor the Central American children had anything to do with, regardless of the real reasons they’ve come to the US border. All of the problems would get worse, not better.

Climate change happening even faster than we think!

Just a few months ago, on May 12th, I blogged on the subject of climate change, It’s too late: We’re all dead.

In that article, I point out that many of the things currently being tried, including carbon taxes, alternative fuels, reduction of fuel emissions, and so forth might have been a good idea had they been put into effect about 40 years ago.

Also, in that article was the partial paragraph:

The next 40 years will see the results of twice-again as many greenhouse gases. Note that the results of more greenhouse gasses are not linear. Twice the carbon dioxide will not lead to twice-again the temperature rise – it increases exponentially.N

Since I write that post, I’ve found out some more information. It’s even worse than I posted there!

Now, it seems that there are some other, hitherto ignored, sources of methane going into the atmosphere, even though #1 has been known since the 1980s.

1. Abandoned Oil wells. Oil wells which have been played out, pumped dry, or otherwise abandoned throughout the world are each giving off methane. For instance see:

2. Fracking

Fracking wells for natural gas leak methane too. That has all but been eliminated while the fracking fluid is being removed, which was big news sometime back. The news reports gave the impression once they were flowing, all was safe from methane. That’s not so!

3. Arctic

4. Antarctic

What they found though was that in the presence of certain anaerobic (oxygen hating) bacteria, that belch methane, the sediments of organic material beneath the Antarctic ice sheets could turn to methane very quickly.

 

At that point, 10C global temperature rises could happen very quickly. These anerobic bacteria could give rise to Canfield Oceans

Hydrogen Sulphide atmosphere, and a beautiful green sky.

This has happened during the past extinctions – Permian, Triassic… it could well happen again.

Venus here we come!

For further information:

I recommend the book, Under a Green Sky by Peter Ward. Not to be missed is Peter Ward’s talk “Under a Green Sky” on Youtube. A more brief explanation “Everything You Need to Know About Mass Extinction” lasting about 14 minutes is also well worth watching. If you want to make it more brief, start at 11:00 to learn about Arctic-produced methane, and how it (or carbon dioxide) is produced – greatly accelerating greenhouse gasses.

Arctic Death Spiral and the Methane Time Bomb is also very much watching, if you’ve got about 70 minutes.

This is starting to get some outside attention

Today in the Daily Kos, a widely-read blog that maily focuses on the liberal/progressive point of view, has today published Is it time we start saying the E word?

I recommend the post, although cynics4bettertomorrow.org has more details of all or most of these things. The videos are recommended.

The concept of mass extinction, nad the forces driving it, which are likely caused by human activity, has gone well out of the hands of any human being to stop it. Human activity may have been – or is likely to have been – the spark that started it, but now nature is just taking its course – as it has 5 times in the earth’s past.

The comments which are currently there have an argument on how much time – 100,000 years or a couple of decades. Some of the posts already on this blog are Antarctic half Thermohaline Circulation Collapsing, Surviving an Overheating World – We’ve Run out of Time to Play Politics, It’s too late: We’re all dead and others in the Earth changes section.

The next thing to happen will be that major news sources start talking about it, first in print, then on TV. The result of that will likely be nothing, but it could be major panic. It won’t help, either way. Panic will cause more suffering in the near term.

Headcynic

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria becoming more common. Risk is now on-par with climate change

16 months ago, I wrote about the dangers of resistant strains of common bacteria. This is at http://cynics4bettertomorrow.org/wordpress/?p=433. In there, I said that in 2012, that 60% of Staphylococcus aureus seen by US doctors were MRSA. Now, in 2014, the World Health Organization reports that in the Americas 90% of Staphylococcus aureus infections are reported to be methicillin-resistant (MRSA) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/amr-report/en/. Daily Kos has a simpler article on the problem, that says nearly the same things at World must consider antibiotic-resistant pathogens to be same level of a threat as climate change. And climate change is worse than previously thought too, as I’ve posted in Climate Change Happening Even Faster than we Think!

MRSA is on all continents, in all or nearly-all nations. As such, it is now a full-blown pandemic. The FDA has found that between 8.5% – 22.5% of chicken and pork products were infected with MRSA, and the numbers are believed to be rising even higher. Over 2 million people in the United States are infected with MRSA alone, with 23,000 of them dying from them, adding $23 billion to annual healthcare costs. Infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria kill far more people than HIV or AIDS, WHO and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have sent out warnings about all of this, but those went unheeded.

It remains a “hidden epidemic” because resistant strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria are not reportable diseases, and are not listed as such on death certificates. Usually, a MRSA death lists “complications” as cause of death on the death certificate.

We have not developed a new antibiotic in 20 years. It takes years to develop a new antibiotic, and there are none in the pipeline. Pharmaceutical companies have been asked and encouraged to, but with the cost of developing and marketing a new medication being so high, the drugs they wish to introduce and develop are for chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or cholesterol. People take those drugs for years, and they remain as effective as they were, and useful until a better class of drugs is developed. Antibiotics, by contrast, are taken for 10-14 days, and the person is done with them. They don’t get continual refills for antibiotics. They don’t sell at nearly as high of a price, so there is little return on investment. Or, insurance companies and institutions will not put them on their “formulary”, will not provide nor pay for them, and they get prescribed an older, cheaper, and ineffective antibiotic. They get sicker, and more costly to treat, or they die.

According to Frontline, some doctors are making the problem worse, by overprescribing antibiotics to those who will not benefit from them, failing to test, or failing to follow-up with such patients.

Yes, other nations could have their companies or their governments develop antibiotics. The fact is that most of the drug research is done in the United States, with nearly all of the experts in pharmacology research being in the United States. Without the people or expertise, it will take them decades to catch up. The US government can encourage, or even pay corporations to develop such things, but if it is not profitable enough, the pharmaceutical companies will not do it. Even at that, it will take years to develop a new antibiotic.

We are now in a post-antibiotic era!

The result of having no antibiotics which will prevent common infections will put our surgeons and hospitals back to where they were in the 18th century. Surgeries were possible then, and some were done, but there was a high chance of dying of an infection afterward.

I disagree with the writer of the DailyKos article. This will be the year remembered for when we set up an international organization recognizing there was a problem, and too late to actually do much about it. It is the year that many more people in the United States got healthcare insurance, access to medical care, and were inadvertently infected with deadly bacteria getting long-term or chronic conditions treated.

This problem was identified in the early 1970s. It should have been addressed then, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s. It is probably too late to stop this now.

So… what to do? Stay home if you’re sick. Eat a balanced diet with plenty of liquids. Avoid drugs. Avoid getting infections: Treat all cuts with antiseptic. Drink enough water. Get enough rest. Avoid seeking healthcare. Avoid visiting hospitals and medical centers if your immune system is compromised due to age, medications, or disease. Stay out of crowded places. If you have a condition that requires surgery, see if there are ways to avoid surgery. If you’re pregnant, deliver your baby at home, with a midwife, and limit visitors to the new mother or newborn baby. ESPECIALLY do not allow those infected with MRSA to visit, or with unknown skin infections.

I’m saying this as a person who was once infected with MRSA several years ago during surgery at a hospital. The infection required a second surgery. After that surgery, rather than an isolation room, I was placed in the obstetrics ward because my reserved isolation room had been given to someone else, when I was late getting out of surgery. While in the obstetrics unit, along with reminding everyone who entered my room to observe handwashing policies, I refused to go see and hold those “cute little babies”. I was shamed after I refused, because “you must hate babies”. I’m no fan of babies, and my other articles on this blog points out I object to reproducing, but I certainly would not want to kill already-born infants! Fortunately, I do not react well to pressure, guilt, and manipulation, and I don’t really care what anyone thinks of me. What on earth were they thinking, or were they thinking??? The next person they did that to or with might not understand what it meant to have antibiotic-reisistant bacteria, and it might matter more to them if this nurse’s aid thought they hated babies or something.

I’ve been posting on Cynics for a Better Tomorrow since its beginning that although there are numerous threats to the short-term survival of civilization or the human race, but I thought that the highest probability was a microbe. Higher than nuclear war. Higher than ecological disaster. Higher than natural disaster. I’m sad to say that I might be right, even with the new information about climate change coming faster and harder than we think.

Exponential growth

No matter where we look, or who we talk to about nearly any topic, one recurring theme is “growth”. We want our companies to grow, our economy to grow, our cities to grow, our schools to grow, and so forth.

Many of our economic and social systems rely on constant exponential growth of younger people.

Clearly this has a limit. At some point in a few centuries, with the current growth rates, human beings would expand to take the entire mass of the planet! Clearly, this would be an absurd situation, and one which we could never get to.

Optimists tell us though that the world is not overpopulated, that the entire population of the world could fit in Texas or other location roughly the same size. Of course, it takes much more space to support those people, to supply them with food, water, and oxygen than it would take for them to survive.

So, which is it?

Population has been growing exponentially throughout the 20th and the 21st century from the 2 billion in 1900, to the 7.5 billion in 2014. As it is, even with the most destructive wars in human history happening in the 20th century, pandemics which have each killed more than previous pandemics did, the time to double remains at about 60 years.

So, what happens with doubling? David Suzuki gives a nice explanation of exponential population growth, with bacteria who are imagined to have the intelligence of human beings. When you’re half full as far as what the food, water, air, etc can handle for your environment, you’re one doubling period from extinction/collapse.

How far are we from extinction? If the world can really support 15 billion people on it, with a significant majority of them having improving lifestyles, using more fuel, water, and oxygen, we are 60 years away. If it can handle 9 billion under those same conditions, we have about 20 years.

Tech cannot save us. Even if we somehow find and develop the technology to travel to 4 more planets, it will only buy us another 120 years before we have those 4 planets overfilled. Even if we created an off-world space station, even if it was the size of earth, which seems highly unlikely, that will only buy us until 2074. If they could support 1 billion people, this hypothetical space station will keep us at our status-quo in 14 years… and keep in mind that those living on the space station will continue to grow their population. This will postpone the problem, and keep causing a bigger problem.

Youtube video about end of the world.

I have seen a Youtube video which discusses some of the other ludicrous possibilities of the end of the world. Opinon-Ville:Doomsday Preppy. Included are the Zombie Apocalypse, the world being a simulation in some 4-year-old’s computer, killer robots, bigfoot uprising, mechanized death shrimp, and… Satan! They explain why nuclear war is no longer a possibility.

Worth watching if you want to laugh about the end of the world.

Disclaimer: Cynics for a Better Tomorrow have no connection with the maker of this video, and takes no responsibility for the making or content of that video.

No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up.–Lily Tomlin