SECTION THREE: THE TIMEFRAME FOR HUMAN EXTINCTION
Fundamentally, as a biological species, humanity must follow the natural procession of creation to destruction. The force of nature can destroy any living thing in the end, and humanity is no exception. From the analysis in chapter three, we know that our natural extinction date should be about five billion years in the future. That is a very long time away, and it gives us little cause for concern.
If the self-destruction timeline for humanity were similarly remote, we would have nothing to worry about. However, if that timeline were mere centuries away, we would be compelled to take immediate precautions. With such a limited timeframe, any adjustments would have to happen as soon as possible; therefore, we should carry out a serious analysis of the timeframe for human extinction.
At the level of science development today, technological advancements can no longer rely solely on intuitive experience, as the guidance of scientific theory has become indispensable. Science and technology first combined during the Industrial Revolution, and people soon discovered that scientific theory was crucial in the further development of technology. Only through theoretical guidance could productivity achieve real increase and more high-end products be developed; therefore, whenever scientific theories achieved breakthroughs, people tried to apply them to new technological products.
Numerous scientific and technological practices reflect one objective fact: Whenever a medium-level theoretical breakthrough occurs, the series of technological products derived from it greatly changes people’s lifestyles. Whenever a high-level theoretical breakthrough occurs, the series of products derived change the world. This change can be beneficial or harmful to humanity. For these reasons, we can roughly infer the timeframe for human extinction by using breakthroughs in scientific theory as a main line.
Based on current scientific theory, we can already infer that the means for total extinction will emerge. The aforementioned self-awareness of artificial intelligence, unethical use of nanobots, asteroid collision, and other factors are all extinction possibilities derived from existing scientific theory. Current scientific theories are still at a limited level, and corresponding means for extinction may take some time and effort to produce—but they will be achieved eventually. For example, the further development of artificial intelligence could be enough to exterminate mankind in another few decades.
The more frightening prospect would be major breakthroughs in scientific theory that could easily produce means for total extinction. Let us make some inferences for this possibility. Since physics has always been at the core of natural science, we will use the development of physics as a reference and follow the fission-acceleration law of scientific breakthrough cycles to conduct our analysis.
The achievements of Galileo marked the beginning of modern physics. It was the first-level breakthrough in the development of modern physics. Logically, Galileo’s achievements should have led to major scientific and technological developments and greatly impacted human society—that was not the case. This was because Galileo’s discoveries took place 150 years before the Industrial Revolution, and people had not yet realized the significance of applying scientific theories to technological practices. However, this does not downplay the power of this first-level revolutionary theory.
Newtonian mechanics was the second-level revolutionary theory of modern physics. Its impact was manifold, but the most prominent impact was its impetus to the Industrial Revolution. What we generally refer to as the Second Industrial Revolution was the stage of the Industrial Revolution in which scientific theory and technical practice successfully combined. This stage held the true explosive power of the Industrial Revolution, and Newtonian mechanics played the most important role.
The guiding effect of Newtonian mechanics and its deep impact on human society did not emerge immediately. It took one hundred years. One reason for this is the inherent time lapse between the establishment of a scientific theory and its practical application. In addition, the idea of combining scientific theory and technical practice did not take root until half a century later, when the Industrial Revolution took place.
Today, we can clearly see the profound changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution and the unprecedented wealth it created. That is more than enough to illustrate the power of revolutionary breakthroughs in physics—Newtonian mechanics in particular.
The theory of relativity and quantum mechanics was the third-level revolutionary theory of modern physics. This theory was born in the early twentieth century. It had tremendous power but was also technically difficult to mobilize. Marked by the explosion of the atomic bomb, this third-level revolutionary theory only took forty years to move from theory to practice because people had fully realized the importance of guiding technical practices with scientific theories and devoted great energy to the matter. This clear and universal recognition also meant the people were willing to invest heavily.
Two examples best sum up the enormous energy generated by these three levels of theoretical breakthroughs in modern physics. First, man has landed on the moon. We are preparing to land on Mars, and unmanned aircraft have flown out of the solar system. Second, hydrogen bombs today have energy equivalent to over fifty-six million tons of TNT. In the above achievements, the main guiding theory was the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.
Based on the above analysis, the fourth-level revolutionary breakthrough in modern physics should be enough to guide the production of total extinction methods. The technological achievements gained through the first three levels of revolutionary breakthroughs has brought humanity one step away from means of total extinction. Technical difficulty is the only issue that remains.
As the core subject of natural sciences, the fourth major breakthrough of physics would hold much more power than the first three. Since we have already approached methods for total extinction at our current stage, it logically follows that a further fourth stage would achieve such means quite easily. The question becomes: How long will it take to achieve the fourth major breakthrough in modern physics?
It took less than one hundred years for Galileo’s physics theories to progress to Newtonian mechanic, and the leap to the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics took about two hundred years. We can infer the fourth step in the cycle based on this timeline. Theoretical breakthroughs in science do not happen overnight; they are the accumulated results of numerous scientists over generations. Since the fourth major theoretical breakthrough will be more advanced and require more accumulation than the third breakthrough, it will probably require more time as well.
We cannot consider this issue in isolation. We all know that science advances in a fission type acceleration, and that it is constantly branching out to form new categories and subdivides. Every one of these subdivides is being studied by scientists, meaning that the results are accumulating at an increasingly fast pace. This supplements the fourth major breakthrough’s need for scientific result accumulation and shortens the time gap considerably.
Even so, we should still set the timeframe for the fourth major breakthrough in modern physics to be longer than its predecessor. The theory of relativity has been established for over a century now. According to the breakthrough cycle, we can reasonably assume that the fourth breakthrough will occur in the next century and a half. If we also consider the time needed for theory to move into application, then we can conclude that means for total extinction will definitely appear in the next two centuries.
The above inference is obviously quite conservative for a few reasons. First, we have not considered that total extinction means based on existing theory may come earlier; also, we have not considered that means of total extinction may emerge faster in fields other than physics. Atomic bombs were a product of physics, but the equally lethal genotoxins were a biological product.
In the very beginning, means for total extinction may be in the hands of a few heads of state or more benign persons; however, the three increases of science development tells us that total extinction means will multiply in power and variety and eventually trickle down to those willing to use them. At the same time, the continued development of scientific theory will elevate scientific and technological products to a corresponding level. At that time, accidents in labs and misuse of products will threaten human survival just as much as deliberate use of total extinction methods. Once means for total extinction are produced, the fate of mankind will be hanging by a thread.
Even so, we should still try to approximate a timeframe for the application of total extinction methods. Nuclear bombs were used in war immediately after their development. GMT toxins have not yet been used, but it has only been a decade since their development. Most extreme means before this were put into use shortly after their inception. The longest waiting periods did not exceed a few decades.
Of course, means of total extinction will be different from destructive means, since it will guarantee that the users be exterminated as well. No logical, sane individual will apply them. Due to the inherent danger of these means, most rational authorities will also exercise strict control over them. These factors can ensure that total extinction means will not be applied for at least some time after their inception; however, the passage of time will inevitably lead to other factors that promote the use of such extreme means.
First, the advancement of science and technology will lead to more types of extinction methods, and they will follow this trend:
1. Under the guidance of newer, higher-level theory, the development of extinction methods will become easier;
2. Newer extinction methods guided by higher-level theories will be increasingly powerful; and
3. Newer methods of extinction will be smaller, more portable, more user-friendly, and more suited for single-person operation.
Second, scientific theories will not only be applied to killing methods, but they will also be used to manufacture civilian products. Due to the uncertainty of science and technology, we cannot guarantee the safety of all scientific theories. A scientific theory that could support the production of extinction means would imbue great power in its civilian counterparts as well. Such civilian products would have great threats hidden within them, and any misuse could result in catastrophe.
Third, as time goes by, even the most rigid controls will malfunction from time to time. Those vindictive extremists who are hell-bent on destruction will be sure to target these moments of weakness to obtain some weapon capable of total extinction.
The above factors decidedly prove that total extinction forces will only become more prone to erupt as time goes by. After taking all factors into consideration, we can assume that humanity will achieve self-destruction within two or three centuries based on the current rate of scientific development.
By now, a clear warning has become clear: the time to act is upon us. We must resolutely and decisively limit the development of science and technology right away. The timeframe for human extinction is no longer than two or three centuries and may even be as short as one century, meaning that even immediate action may be too late.
Regrettably, the limitations of human wisdom instill in us ubiquitous “leap disagreement” attitudes and development numbness. Humanity is still in the dark regarding the dire situation and persists in underestimating the power and threat of scientific development. Substantive preventive measures are still matters of the distant future. The elites of humanity are happy to enjoy the fruits of scientific achievements and ignore any harm that is not immediately visible. As for the certainty that science will cause catastrophic damage, none of the most powerful leaders in the world have substantive consciousness. There is really very little time left for mankind!