Published in Hong Kong Magazine in September, 2008
----Written when On Extinction of Mankind was published in Hong Kong
At first glance, natural extinction of mankind would be far away, and this is a conclusion one can make after simple logical analysis. So far until the present, extinction of species has been caused by natural forces. Dinosaurs lived on earth for 163 million years, guaranteed by their mightiness. It has been less than 50 thousand years since mankind completed its evolution, and compared to the dinosaur, mankind is just at the beginning of its development. Natural forces also work on mankind, but mankind is much more powerful than the dinosaur, so there should be a long way for mankind to go. I have carried out an in-depth and complete research on this subject. The conclusion of scientific research also matches simple logic consideration.
However, the largest threat faced by the unprecedentedly powerful mankind, the only intelligent life-form in biological history, is itself. If we do not adopt measures decisively, mankind will become extinct in no more than three to five hundred years, or within a hundred years if it is soon.
This is a conclusion that one cannot make from instinct, but a conclusion of precise reasoning. It is certainly a complicated conclusion, which requires in-depth analysis of a series of problems for true understanding.
Extinction Means Will Appear Definitely
The fundamental threat to the general survival of mankind comes from the development of science and technology. We usually compare different persons or compare people with animals. If anyone can figure out a question in 5 minutes, while others need 10 minutes, then this person is praised as very clever. If anyone says that an elephant can do work that requires twenty or thirty persons to do, then he is describing the large strength of this kind of animal. Science and technology has enhanced mankind's ability by not only several times, or even thousands of times, but actually tens of millions and even hundreds of millions of times.
When electricity was first applied in the wired telegraph for communication, curious people bet that the horse would certainly run faster than the electric telegraph. People were greatly surprised when the information was transmitted to one hundred kilometers away instantly. Electricity transmits information at a speed close to the speed of light, which is 300,000 km/s, hundreds of millions times faster than the of a horse.
The calculating the ability of the first set of electronic computers was 5,000 times/second. Someone has calculated that that calculation amount of the computer in its ten years of service equals the total calculation amount of all mankind since the beginning of recorded history (though I think this calculation is a little exaggerated, this computer is still remarkable). Machines can not only replace manual labor, but also calculate as fast as the human brain. People are more amazed that the calculation speed of a machine is much faster than the human brain. Nowadays, the calculation ability of a mainframe computer has reached thousands of trillions times per second. In other words, the calculation ability of a computer has been increased by hundreds of billions of times based on its original calculation ability, which was quite strong already. Just think of what a tremendous concept hundreds of billions times is! What another tremendous concept thousands of trillions times is!
Then, by how many times have science and technology increased mankind's self-destruction ability? We will not talk about very primitive people for the moment, but let us have a look at the cold steel age that was not long ago. A knife and arrow could only hurt one person then, but a nuclear bomb could destroy a metropolis of one million people in a blink now. In 1961, the former Soviet Union launched the hydrogen bomb, the explosion of which equals 5,600 tons of TNT, more powerful than the total amount of dynamite used in the over a thousand years of human history since the invention of gunpowder by the Chinese. It is obvious that while benefiting mankind, science and technology has also increased its destruction ability by tens of millions of times.
Nuclear power is not the worst destructive measure at present. Compared with nuclear weapons, bio-toxins made with transgenetic technology are far more powerful. They kill mankind by spreading the super plague, and at least several large countries have mastered these biotoxins. Just because spreading of the plague is very difficult to control, no country dares to use it randomly, and people do not pay as much attention to it.
However, not matter how terrible the destruction measures are at present, they cannot extinguish mankind. Even if all nuclear weapons were used, only around several billion people would be killed. It will lead to nuclear winter, but will not end mankind. This is the joint conclusion of relevant scientists after discussions. Nuclear power explodes at only one location, so its power will not be distributed evenly on everyone. Bio-toxins cannot extinguish mankind, either.
Has development of science and technology reached its summit? Obviously not. As long as science and technology has not stopped developing, it will develop to a higher level. It will definitely become more powerful, and although this kind of power could benefit mankind, it could also extinguish mankind. Such destructive power will, in fact, extinguish mankind someday, or in other words, extinction measures will appear inevitably. Correctness of this logic inference, which is not very complicated, can even withstand mathematical tests. So it is a verdict, rather than a possibility.
Not only can we make this definite conclusion through logical inference, we can also get completely the same conclusion by scientific theories we have mastered. Scientific theories are the basis for guiding practices, and most scientific products inferred from mature scientific theories can be developed by taking great efforts. For example, after the electromagnetic theory was discovered, people conceived the idea of transmitting information with the electromagnetic wave, so radiograms, televisions and cell phones were invented. After the mass-energy formula was discovered, people conceived that a small bomb would easily destroy a metropolis, so the atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb were produced.
In my books, I referred to several extinction measures from present scientific theories, which means that even if scientific theory stops developing now, extinction measures could be researched and made technically only through endeavors.
However, it is not only that scientific theory hasn't stopped developing, but is developing faster and faster, forming an explosion momentum, so people often exclaim that this is an era of knowledge explosion. Knowledge explosion is caused by the accelerated development of science and technology.
If extinction measures can be gained by present scientific theories and great technical efforts, then extinction measures researched with much developed scientific theories will have features as follows: First, extinction measures can be gained much more easily, and it will become more possible that a single person is able to obtain such measures by his efforts. Second, extinction measures developed will be more powerful, and it will be more possible that a one time use of such a measure will be able to extinguish mankind. Third, extinction measures can be used much more easily, and it will become more possible that a single person is able to operate such measures independently.
Extinction Means Will Definitely be Used
There will always be some cruel people in the world trying to retaliate mankind. They will try every possible means to find most extreme methods of slaughter and use them immediately to perish together with others. As the world's population is huge, even if such cruel people are rare, the absolute number will be quite large. What is more, as mankind still has a long way to go, no matter how hard it is to find extinction measures, these cruel people will have it sooner or later.
As long as science and technology has not stopped developing, after the first extinction measure appears, the second, the third and so on will appear in succession. Just as there was only the atomic bomb that was nuclear at first, then the hydrogen bomb, neutron bomb, pressure wave bomb and electromagnetic pulse bomb followed. With the development of science and technology to a higher level, it will be certain that new extinction measures that are more powerful will be obtained much more easily and will be easily operated by a single person. Bio-toxins made with transgenetic technology, having destructive power comparable to nuclear weapons, is just a measure that could be researched and operated independently by a single person, and just one use of it could cause tremendous damage. It would be easier to control groups like countries, but would be very difficult to control individuals.
What should be emphasized is that the human being is a kind of species that has not evolved to perfection. Various institutions and organizations of human society are dedicated to reducing crimes, particularly some malicious crimes committed by few cruel people, using various measures. Social systems, law systems and morality atmosphere can all restrain the general society, but they cannot ensure that everyone is absolutely rational and will not do extremely bad things, no matter how sound the systems and atmosphere are.
Throughout all recorded history of human society, we can find some era that was governed well in some period in history, with honest and simple. No one picked up or pocketed anything lost on the road, but there were still stealers and killers in such an area during that period. Through the memory of our elder generation, in 1950s, people in mainland China were simple and honest and no one picked up or pocketed anything lost on the road. However, there were still vicious criminals then. This is normal, because human society is too large and human history too long, that people's rationality cannot be perfect. If anyone counts on a perfect social system to ensure that no one will use extinction measures, then it would be wishful thinking only. Even if this impractical wish malfunctions only once, doomsday for mankind will come.
Extinction Power May Break Out Accidentally
In fact, not only will psychopaths start the extinction power, but someone will start the power accidently also.
Science and technology has a very obvious feature, and that is uncertainty. What we think is the best scientific fruit will actually turn out to be the worst. Because of this uncertainty, we can often discover some fruits accidentally. Some of these are beneficial, while others are harmful. After science and technology has developed to a higher level, in which case science and technology could extinguish mankind, careless use of scientific results or careless scientific experiments would both be possible to start the extinction power accidentally and push human beings down to the abyss of extinction.
Some idealist intellectuals will always ask whether it is possible to avoid such accidents by extreme caution. It is actually impossible.
When DuPont discovered Freon, they found that it was very stable. Because it was colorless and tasteless, didn't erode metal or react with air, they considered it as the ideal refrigerant, and applied it widely on air-conditioners and refrigerators. But because it is very stable and reacts with nothing, it is able to float to the top of the atmosphere, where it meets strong, unfiltered ultraviolet radiation, and decomposes to produce the chlorine ion, This reacts with ozone, and results in damages to the ozonosphere. Although international society has taken measures in large-scale after the problem was discovered, it will be difficult to make up the holes in the ozonosphere already caused, and this is the disaster caused by misuse of one technical product only.
DDT used to be considered as the best pesticide, because it was not harmful to mankind, livestock or birds, but only harmful to pests. Muller, discoverer of the effects of DDT, even won the Nobel chemical prize for this. DDT is harmless to mankind, livestock and birds because it is insoluble in water and won't be absorbed; but it is soluble in oil. People eat oil, and bird eat fish, which contain oil also, so DDT becomes a very harmful pesticide. It is certainly very difficult to eliminate the harm once the problem is found out. Because it is insoluble in water, it will exist in the natural environment permanently, and can cause damage anytime. Even Antarctic penguins that are far away from mankind contain DDT in their body.
Science and technology is just so difficult to guard against and control. Science and technology has not been quite developed until now. Although those uncertain technical results have brought us many disasters and troubles, they still cannot extinguish human beings; but when science and technology develops into a further level, there will inevitably be some scientific results which will be able to extinguish human beings.
In 1945, before the test explosion of atomic bomb, while being excited for the scientific research that was about to be completed, scientists participating in this research were also very worried that the atomic bomb might ignite the atmosphere. Because the temperature of the explosion would be tens of thousands of times of the chemical inflammation that they were familiar with, no one had such experience with what would be caused by such high temperatures, so no one dared to predict. But in light of the urgent need for World War II, scientists decided to take a risk. It is fortunate that the atomic bomb did not ignite the atmosphere, or the hydrogen bomb that followed the atomic bomb, either.
In March 2008, some American scientists brought forth an accusation against the European Organization for Nuclear Research because the latter planned to carry out an Atom smasher experiment in Switzerland. This experiment, on which huge investments had been made, was to simulate particle smashing at the starting state of the universe. Accusing American scientists were very worried that such kinds of collision might produce an unstable micro-black hole. If this were to really happen, the globe and all human beings would be easily absorbed into this micro-black hole, which would result in the extinction of mankind. But according to present scientific theory, such micro-black holes would vaporize instantly, and there would be no need to worry. However, this scientific theory has not been verified in practice. What American scientists worried about was the uncertainty of the theory, and what if a stable micro-black hole was produced in the collision?!
Many accidents have occurred in previous careless experiments. Russian scientist Likhman was struck to death by lightning in his misplayed experiment of atmospheric electricity because he was unfamiliar with atmospheric electricity. Nobel's younger brother and assistant died in experiments of safety research about nitroglycerin because lack of knowledge about nitroglycerin led to error in the experiment. In fact, we carry out scientific research because we do not know the experiment objective, or we do not know fully. Otherwise, it would be unnecessary to carry out the scientific research. Just because we are unfamiliar with an experiment objective, it becomes inevitable that errors often occur in scientific experiments. But if experimental errors that American scientists worried about really occured in the exploration of unknown fields this time, the cost we would have to pay would be the extinction of all human beings.
The experiment has started, so we might be lucky. Please think, can we always be so lucky?! We may be lucky once or twice, or tens and hundreds of times, but luck will fail us someday, and just one fail will put an end to all human beings.
Self-Extinction Hundreds of Years Away
How far away is self-extinction of mankind from us?
As scientific theories are the basis for guiding technical practices, we can carry out the analysis. A revolutionary breakthrough of theory of a subject will not only greatly change the world, but could also increase human's destructive ability by tens of millions of times, or even hundreds of millions of times. Because physics is at the core in the field of natural sciences, we may take physics as an example to carry out a relevant analysis.
The founder of modern physics is Galileo. His contributions to physics and relevant fruits could be called the revolutionary theory in the first level, but his theory did not significantly influence human society immediately because people had not realized the great importance of scientific theory and practice at that time. The talented Newton pushed modern physics into a new level. Wide applications of Newtonian mechanics were the fundamental causes for continuous development in the Industrial Revolution. If Newton were not born in the UK, the Industrial Revolution would not have been carried out profoundly in the UK. Because the Industrial Revolution started in the UK and has changed the whole world, Newtonian mechanics is the revolutionary theory in the second level of modern physics.
Einstein is a great physician that followed Newton. Einstein's principle of relativity and quantum mechanics, established by Einstein and a group of other excellent scientists, are the revolutionary breakthrough of the third level of modern physics. What great power has burst out from the revolutionary breakthrough of the third level? I will give two examples only. The atomic bomb and hydrogen bombs were developed according to the principle of relativity, human beings have landed on moon and our spacecraft has flied out of the solar system. These results were guided by not only the principle of relativity, but also quantum mechanics. In a word, the revolutionary theory of the third level of modern physics has changed the human world again.
A nuclear bomb could destroy a metropolis with a population of tens of millions. Bio-toxins made with transgenetic technology are far more powerful, and such great power is actually not far away from the extinction of mankind. What is more, the extinction means could be gained by present scientific theories, but as the level of present scientific theory is not high enough, the process of researching extinction means would be very complicated. But if the revolutionary breakthrough of physics theory happens again, the conditions would be very different then. On the basis that our present power can almost extinguish mankind, we have every reason to believe that if the revolutionary breakthrough of theory really happens in physics, the largest subject in the field of natural science, extinction measures will be easily developed. Then how far away is the revolution?
It was less than 100 years of time from Galileo's revolutionary theory at the first level to the Newtonian revolutionary theoretic breakthrough at the second level; it was over 200 years from the Newtonian revolutionary theoretic breakthrough at the second level to the revolutionary theoretic breakthrough represented by Einstein; it has been around 100 years since Einstein put forward the principle of relativity. It may be a longer time later that the revolutionary theoretic breakthrough will happen again, and there will be a process of application, so the inference that extinction measures will appear 200 years later should be reasonable.
Furthermore, this is a conservative conclusion. First, extinction means inferred from present scientific theories might be researched and developed earlier than my estimate. Second, significant theoretical breakthroughs may also happen to subjects other than physics, and such breakthroughs may also result in the appearance of extinction means. Take two extinction measures at present as examples; nuclear weapons are a result of physics, while bio-toxins made with transgenetic technology are a result of biology.
Simple logical analysis also supports this conclusion. Science and technology was almost nothing in the middle period of the 18th century when the Industrial Revolution started, and it took only over 200 years to reach the high level at present. Compared with history, investment in scientific research is much larger, research methods more efficient, experiment equipment more advanced, and the number of people in scientific research much more than before. Production speed of scientific results are numerous times faster than before, so people often say that they are born in a time of knowledge explosion. Then it will be natural that the development of science and technology will be able to bring extinction means 200 years later, a time period almost equal to the time from the Industrial Revolution to the present.
We will not discuss how conservative the conclusion is, but just reminder for you to think; Will breaking out of extinction power be far away when extinction means appear?
After appearance of the first extinction measure, other extinction measures will appear one after the other if science and technology keeps developing. As time goes by, there would be many extinction measures created in many subjects. So extinction power may break out in many different modes, including purposeful application by cruel people, careless use of technical products and accidents in scientific researches. One such breaking out will be enough to terminate mankind. After a series of scientific research and reasoning, I concluded that if we fail to adopt prevention measures decisively, mankind will be extinguished in three to five hundred years, or even in less than a hundred years if it is soon (this research process is elaborated in details in relevant books of mine).
However, even if we adopt measures to limit the development of science and technology now, accidental acquirements and long-term accumulation of science may also push mankind down to the abyss of extinction. Because the development of science has inertia, scientific results could be obtained accidentally that would prevent the long future of mankind.
Please think of this: if we could popularize current safe and mature scientific and technical results worldwide, people's lives would be better off. We can easily feel that problem of enterprise is not unable to make products, but unable to sell products. According to evaluations of relevant institutions, technical results that have been applied in production are even less than one third of the total, which shows that current scientific results still have great potential. Mankind should not be too greedy to always ask from science and technology. Excessive greed will be retaliated.