In the 1987 movie Real Men, comic actors John Ritter and James Belushi heroically navigate the dangerous world of espionage as they try to save the world. You see, a group of scientists accidentally dropped an experimental chemical into the ocean that will soon destroy all life on Earth. Fortunately, a group of kindly aliens have offered to save the planet in exchange for a glass of water. As Ritter and Belushi are beset by rogue FBI agents and Russian spies, the question is will they trade the aliens for “the good package” or “the big gun.” Apparently the advanced race also has a planet-destroying weapon and some aggressive humans want it. In many respects, that scenario is a metaphor for human beings and the way we will ultimately apply technological advancements.
On one hand, the United States used atomic science to drop two bombs on Japan, usher in the Cold War and take the world the brink of Armageddon. On the other hand, nuclear science has developed sustainable energy that could help save us from climate change.
It seems for every technological leap forward, humans either use that knowledge for good or evil. Here are five ways that emerging technologies could doom us all and five ways they could save humanity.
10 Ways Tech Can Save or Doom Humanity
The man made virus that brings humanity to its knees is one of popular culture’s most revived themes. Charlton Heston starred as the last uninfected human in the 1970s Omega Man and human-engineered plagues have been terrifyingly audiences right up to today’s The Walking Dead. The problem with this sci-fi horror fantasy is that it’s a reality. Governments around the world have numerous laboratory created germs that could level the planet.
In the Netherlands, scientist Ron Fouchier decided to experiment with the avian flu virus and managed to create an airborne strain that had the ability to annihilate half the planet’s human inhabitants. That’s 3.5 billion people with one self-reproducing germ. But Fouchier isn’t the only government-paid bioterrorist hard at work. An Australian scientist “accidentally” engineered a mousepox virus that effectively turns off the human immune system, rendering us defenseless against any and all viruses. If unleashed, the common cold could wipe out the entire human population.
To put all this apocalyptic virus engineering in perspective, the regular Smallpox virus buried up to 50 percent of the people who had some immunity. What would a human-designed Armageddon plague do?
The Grey Goo
Just 10 years ago, self-replicating technology seemed like a modern day Jules Verne novel. But log on to Amazon.com and you can buy a 3-D printer with a credit card. If you pay a little extra, it can be on your doorstep tomorrow. This is the first step to making a machine that can reproduce its own part, or just reproduce itself entirely. This sounds a lot like a Star Trek replicator. Remember Capt. Jean-Luc Picard saying “Earl Grey, hot.” He actually said that 311 times during the series. But the idea of machines that can remake themselves is the basis of Eric Drexler’s doomsday theory about the Grey Goo. In his work, Engines of Creation, Drexler theorizes that nanomachines will need raw materials for replication. Should they get out of control, they could conceivably devour the entire planet through endless self-procreation. Other potential dangers involve the current development of nanobots. Scientists are targeting them for use in things like heart surgery and cleaning pollution from the ocean. They can conceivable eat up waste materials at an exponential rate. Of course, one wrong strand of code and they could consume the oceans just as easily. In terms of these tiny bots, there’s a reason people are afraid of what they cannot see.
Scientific Experiment Gone Wrong
During the late 1990s and 2000s, the European Organization for Nuclear research built the Large Hadron Collider. It was the most powerful particle smasher ever created. It was also the biggest machine ever erected. Many scientists theorized that its use could create a black hole that would suck in the Earth and all of its inhabitants. They tested it anyway. Fortunately we’re still here.
But despite the end of days implications, scientists have successfully pursued the creation of black holes. With the intention of proving renowned theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking musings that energy escapes black holes, Israeli professor Jeff Steinhauer created a “lab-sized black hole. Apparently Steinhauer’s reasoning for putting the entire human race in jeopardy was that he couldn’t bring lab instruments to a black hole millions of light years away, so he brought a black hole to his tools.
Global Systems Failure
The world has grown increasingly reliant on technology. From government to military defense to hospitals to communications to food supplies, everything runs on technology.
Technology affects every aspect of our lives and without it, millions, possibly billions would perish. Home heating systems would fail. Food production and deliveries stymied. The production of necessary medicines would cease. Mass employment would be lost. Your car wouldn’t even start.
We don’t tend to think in terms of complete technological disaster, but it can happen.
People are generally aware that solar flares from the sun tend to put communications and electricity out of whack. If the sun ejected what is known as a “coronal mass,” it could collapse every electrical system on the planet. Game over.
The premise of Artificial Intelligence exterminating humanity tends to lead our imagination straight to sci-fi movies and shows. AI deciding that humans are a threat is the basic foundation of the Terminator series, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. As Kyle Reese so aptly puts it: Skynet “saw all humans as a threat” and “decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination.”
The 2016 TV series Westworld, starring Anthony Hopkins, has been playing out the AI consciousness notion as well. That show has taken the logical direction that the self-aware machines recognize humans as inherently bad and they need to do something about it. And while AI self-awareness may be or may not be in the near future, the U.S. military has been hard at work developing “thinking” machines. They currently have one that handily out-duels veteran Air Force pilots and are speculating that AI soldiers will be on the battlefield in the next decade. The future may not be written, but we’re one CPU chip away from the rise of the machines. AI could doom us all in this lifetime.
Famed Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking has recently prophesied that humans need to colonize other planets within the next 1,000 years or face possible extinction. Considering he’s a genius, his reasoning was quite simple. Global catastrophes like those the wiped out the dinosaurs are inevitable. With each passing day, our odds of survival diminish.
To that end, NASA and other space exploration organizations are pressing forward to set a foundation for a Mars colony. NASA’s Charles Bolden laid out a plan to land astronauts on an asteroid during the 2020s and proceed on to Mars during the 2030s. Mars is viewed as a stepping stone planet. By having humans on two planets, the species has a greater chance of survival. Technology may get us to the New World once again.
Nanotechnology holds one of the greatest possibilities for saving or destroying the human race. If used properly, nanobots could be an amazing leap forward in medicine. Discovering penicillin would pale in comparison to nanotech devices entering the blood stream to repair organs, eliminate cancer cells or keep the body oxygenated after a sudden heart attack.
In Spain, a device called the BioFinger is being developed that can detect infections in the body at a cellular level. The extraordinary advantage to such a nano medical device could detect disease and cancer before they present a health danger.
In Germany, the Adonis Project blends nano particles with biological elements that carry antibodies to target prostate cancer cells.
The advancements in medical applications of nanotechnology are being developed rapidly around the globe. Apparently, the next big thing in medicine will be quite small.
As 3D printers enter mainstream life, their ability to recreate objects by using 3D scanners and files will revolutionize manufacturing as we know it. Third World countries will suddenly be able to replicate advanced tools and devices by only supplying raw materials.
This industry is one of the hottest in terms of financial growth and is expected to hit more than $12 billion by 2018. There is even talk of integrating 3-D scanners into Smartphones.
It will eventually raise the standard of living on a global level and may end poverty once and for all.
Messing around with the human genome seems very scary. And it is. But many ailments have their foundations in those tiny strands of DNA and understanding this intricate map can allow scientists and physicians to prevent debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s before they begin. The Human Genome Project has amassed and incredible wealth of information that is already translating into the early prevention of health problems. Thanks to this research, infants born in the United States are tested for up to 50 serious but treatable genetic diseases at birth. At Stanford University, research is being conducted to pre-detect whether heart transplants will be rejected based on DNA sequences.
The sun rises every morning. And if it doesn’t, well, you won’t have to worry about getting to work by nine. The sun is also the most powerful energy source in our universe and our feeble efforts to harness it are finally coming to fruition in the battle to stave off climate change.
The first silicon solar cell was invented in the early 1950s and more than 60 years later solar panels have only increased their efficiency by six percent. But the good news is that game changing technologies such light-sensitive nanoparticles, molten salt storage technology and panels with built-in batteries will soon allow homeowners and businesses to get off the grid. Also, hard walkway and roadway solar panels are already in the works.
The sun has a life expectancy of about five billion years. Now that’s sustainable energy!
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