End of Days

Led by the Astronomer Royal and Cambridge don Martin Rees, famous thinkers such as physicist Stephen Hawking and former Government chief scientist Robert May have formed a society to draw up a doomsday list of risks that could wipe out mankind.

From crippling cyber-attacks by terrorists using the internet to cause havoc, to the release of engineered diseases and killer computers, they warn the future is far from rosy.

The society, which is led by Lord Rees, will look at natural catastrophes like an asteroid hitting the Earth (illustrated) extreme weather events and pandemics, but he believes 'the main threats to sustained human existence now come from people, not from nature'.

But the work being done by the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) should one day help the world sleep a little easier at night. 

Once the threats have been identified, the group intend to devise ways of 'ensuring our own species has a long-term future'.

Other scenarios being considered by the 27-strong group, which also involves academics from Oxford, Imperial, Harvard and Berkeley, include extreme weather events, fast spreading pandemics, and war or sabotage resulting in a shortage of food and resources.

Speaking last night at the British Science Festival at the University of Newcastle, Lord Rees said: 'In future decades, events with low probability but catastrophic consequences may loom high on the political agenda.

'The project is still embryonic but we are seeking funds via various sources and have strengthened our international advisory network.' 

The other two co-founders of CSER are Jann Tallinn, one of the people behind internet phone service Skype, and Cambridge philosopher Professor Huw Price.

The group's manifesto is clear: 'Many scientists are concerned that developments in human technology may soon pose new, extinction-level risks to our species as a whole.

'Our goal is to steer a small fraction of Cambridge's great intellectual resources and of the reputation built on its past and present scientific pre-eminence, to the task of ensuring that our own species has a long-term future. 

No comments: