Every year, the online magazine Edge–the so-called smartest website in the world, helmed by science impresario John Brockman–asks top scientists, technologists, writers, and academics to weigh in on a single question. This year, that query was “What Should We Be Worried About?”, and the idea was to identify new problems arising in science, tech, and culture that haven’t yet been widely recognized.
This year’s respondents include former presidents of the Royal Society, Nobel prize-winners, famous sci-fi authors, Nassem Nicholas Taleb, Brian Eno, and a bunch of top theoretical physicists, psychologists, and biologists. And the list is long. Like, book-length long. There are some 150 different things that worry 151 of the planet’s biggest brains. And I read about them all, so you don’t have to: here’s the Buzzfeedized version, with the money quote, title, or summary of the fear pulled out of each essay. Obviously, go read the rest if any of the below get you fretting too.
Extracted fromsummary here are the 12 with which I agree:
6. Genuine apocalyptic events. The growing number of low-probability events that could lead to the total devastation of human society. – Martin Rees, former president of the Royal Society
11. That there will be another supernova-like financial disaster. –Seth Lloyd, professor of Quantum Mechanical Engineering at MIT
20. “I worry that as the problem-solving power of our technologies increases, our ability to distinguish between important and trivial or even non-existent problems diminishes.” –Evgeny Morozov, contributing editor, Foreign Policy
38. Mutually-assured destruction. –Vernor Vinge, mathematician, computer scientist, author
52. “What worries me is that we are increasingly enmeshed in incompetent systems, that is, systems that exhibit pathological behaviour but can’t fix themselves.” –John Naughton, Edge editor
64. A scarcity of water resources. –Giulio Boccaletti, physicist
78. That synthetic biology will spiral out of control. –Seirian Summer, lecturer in behavioral biology
83. That the human species will lose the will to survive. –Dave Winer, Blogging and RSS software pioneer
97. Natural death. –Antony Garrett Lisi, theoretical physicist
108. That the role of microorganisms in cancer is being ignored by the current sequencing strategies employed by the medical community. –Azra Raza, M.D.
113. Superstition. –Matt Ridley, science writer
133. “There are known knowns and known unknowns, but what we should be worried about most is the unknown unknowns.” –Gary Marcus, cognitive scientist
Are 20 that I expected to see when I read the title of the article. Not in order or concern, just brainstorming:
- A massive solar flare/CME fries all electronics over the course of a few days resulting in mass starvation and cannibalism.
- The world runs out of oil, resulting in mass starvation and cannibalism.
- The hole in the ozone layer grows and UV radiation that kills all life on Earth’s surface.
- We pollute ourselves to the point where no clean up is possible.
- Fukishima reactors explode resulting in massive cancer deaths or worse, a huge plutonium release.
- Impact of Earth by a killer space rock that wipes the surface of the earth clean
- World War III
- Methane ice under the oceans melt and change earth’s atmosphere dramatically, resulting in quick mass suffocation of oxygen breathing life forms.
- A super volcano blots out the sun for years
- Public execution as a sport
- The world runs out of water and we fight to the death for the last drops.
- Environmental toxins result in massively increased stupidity which results in the release of more environmental toxins.
- Superstitious religious fanatics take over the world.
- All big democracies are fakes with the votes fixed. The military industrial complex controls all significant outcomes.
- The Nazi’s the USA got from WWII slowly took over and are now running the country. This is why we have torture camps, secret human mind experimentation, false flag operations, etc.
- Industry kills people (usually slowly) for profit with full “legal” protection by the government.
- An engineered super bio weapon makes everyone sterile that it does not kill, resulting in the death of humanity in one generation.
- Grey goo: self replicating nano machines get out of control and cover the surface of the earth.
- Complete world financial collapse.
- That when I die, I will remain conscious for minutes, hours, even years, knowing that I am dead, trapped in a painful hell created by slowly rotting brain cells unable to do anything.
- The earth is pulled out of orbit as we pass near a huge rogue planet and we all freeze to death in space.
- Countries fight each other with potent weather weapons (earthquakes, hurricanes, thousands of killer tornadoes).
- Insects evolve their intelligence and communication to the point where they plan a massive attack against all mammals, and they win.