Real scientists like Stephen Hawking and astronomer Lord Martin Rees are currently reviewing a list of "existential threats" to humanity. We're not talking about world hunger or poverty. You know. Things that you'd think real scientists would concern themselves with.
We're talking about things like alien invasion.
Jog on over to the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk website, which includes a long list of highly authoritative and recognizable thinkers. They're looking for funding right now so they can "assess how to enhance resilience against the more credible [risks]."
It's really important to Lord Rees, however, that you don't panic. Even still, he says we're lying to ourselves if we think that some of these threats, as "Hollywood" as they seem, aren't plausible.
"We fret too much about minor hazards of everyday life: improbable air crashes, carcinogens in food, low radiation doses and so forth," he said at this week's British Science Festival.
"But the wide public is in denial about two kinds of threats: those that we're causing collectively to the biosphere, and those that stem from the greater vulnerability of our interconnected world to error or terror induced by individuals or small groups."
The five most eye-catching of these threats are:
Just like Deep Impact and Armageddon, the idea that a giant asteroid is hurtling through space with Earth's name on it is something that the CSER takes very seriously. Though the statistical chance of an "impact event" ending all life on earth is pretty low, it only takes one giant meteor to do it, and we've had a couple of near-misses over the years. It seems that we have a bit of time before we have to worry about this one, though. SpaceDaily reports that the next potentially life-ending asteroid will approach in 93 years.
This fear is likely a lukewarm leftover from the Cold War, but with an estimated 19,000 nuclear warheads still collecting dust around the world today, it's always at least a hypothetical possibility that red buttons will be pressed and mankind will be over in a flash. If you think you'd actually fare well in a Mad Max or Book of Eli-esque scenario, just remember you have to somehow survive the 5.9 billion death quota required for such a world to exist in the first place.
The most realistic item on the list, World War of civilization-ending proportions is definitely at the forefront of CSER's minds. This is different from nuclear apocalypse, because we're not just talking about humanity's complete and utter extinction over the course of a Saturday afternoon. This is a slower burn apocalypse. War costs money, depletes resources, increases social unrest, spurs revolution after revolution, destroys infrastructure, and pretty soon we're looking at another Dark Ages. Sound familiar?
Not even kidding. The idea that computers will one day wake up and say "I'm tired of you banging your meaty digits on my keyboard all day every day" is something scientists take so seriously that they're willing to ask for thousands in donations so they can sit around and figure out how to kill Terminators.
Alright, so George Romero's living dead epidemic is probably a little far-fetched, but let's be honest. What exactly is stopping a 28 Days Later-esque Rage virus type situation from actually happening? Brain parasites, neurotoxins, even nanomachines could make it happen. In fact, there are tons of hypothetical scenarios that realistically lead to a zombie apocalypse. "That's cool," you say. "I'd thrive in post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland."
Well, remember you have to make the cut first...