KK: Global Catastrophic Risk
Best chances to ruin Thanksgiving, ranked 1-17

Lampoon wrote a VERY good reply to Mojician's KK on Green Tech:


               I hope it is not too late to throw another log on the embers of this discussion, but I ran across a paper that offers an interesting framework for evaluating a policy that may cause severe harm to the public domain. The paper is entitled “The Precautionary Principle” (or “PP” for short) and a pdf is available here.  http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/pp2.pdf

               PP states that if the risk of an action includes severe or unrecoverable global harm (or as the authors put it, “ruin”) then in the absence of scientific near-certainty of the safety of the action, the burden of proof about absence of harm falls on those proposing the action. The authors compare nuclear energy risks with Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) risks as an illustration. They conclude that nuclear energy risks, if implemented in small quantities, can be localized (how small to be determined by direct analysis so threats remain local) and subject to traditional cost-benefit analysis for local decision making. GMO’s, on the other hand, should be subject to PP because their risk is systemic both to the ecosystem – a GMO might spread uncontrollably and cannot be localized – and on human health – the modification of crops affects everyone. Therefore, the absence of evidence, one way or the other, that an action might cause ecocide shifts the burden to those proposing the action to demonstrate to a near-certainty of its safety.


               I bring up this paper because it help me focus my thinking about some of the issues raised above.


- See more at: http://baseball.seattlesportsinsider.com/blogs/konspiracy-korner#comment...


That's a cool paper Lampoon.  My own noodlings, below, are a little bit TIC but please don't take them as disrespect to your own thoughts.  You know how Dr. D is ...  anyway.  The wiki page on 'Global Catastrophic Risk' informs us that we've got a good 1-in-5 chance of ending ourselves before the year 2100 A.D.:


Risk Estimated probability from an expert survey for human extinction before 2100
Overall probability 19%
Molecular nanotechnology weapons 5%
Superintelligent AI 5%
Wars 4%
Engineered pandemic 2%
Nuclear war 1%
Nanotechnology accident 0.5%
Natural pandemic 0.05%
Nuclear terrorism


I give Wiki credit for acknowledging that their page is philosophical, not scientific.  As does the paper you Lampoon cites, coming from the Paris School of Philosophy.  Personally, Dr. D was a bit disappointed that Global Warming, Grey Goo, and Particle Accelerator Accidents didn't make the top eight.  But at his age, he can afford to take these things, um, philosophically.

What is Grey Goo, you may ax?  It's a colorful name for --- > self-replicating Von Neumann machines eating the Earth out of house and home.  ? eh?  Why would this be called Grey Goo?  Well, there's an easy comment for some intrepid SSI denizen.  I'd like to know myself.


A good takeaway here is, "Well, if we want trillion$ to deal with the risk of Global Warming, what else should we have trillions for?  And in what priority?"  The Wiki page lists the top 17 threats to humanity's existence, for our convenience.  They include the 'megatsunami' but omit their own proposal that the universe may be a simulation about to end within 84 years.

Scenes we'd like to see:  Donald and Hillary debate the prioritization ... John Kerry and Ben Carson teaming for a film on 'The Inconvenient Truth' the universe could be a simulation ... finally, a Wiki page getting specific as to what % of our GNP ought to be allocated to planetary life insurance.  Maybe 30%?  Maybe just double everyone's taxes?  It sounds funny but this is actually the live electrical wire behind the Wobal Glarming debate:  how much power should we consolidate in Washington to protect ourselves, and how much dinero should we stash there.

My response is a little TIC but I do appreciate the link Lampoon.  +1  


Personally I haven't heard the Democratic or Republican candidates so much as asked how much of the GNP we should be allocating to self-SELF-defense.  Or what research should be prohibited in the name of Fighting Skynet.  Or this topic addressed in any way at all.

If there's a 19% chance that we'd done by 2100, you'd think the exchange would extend beyond the 1-in-19 factor of Global Warming?


Keith was (is?) a Mayor.  It would be interesting to hear him (and all you all) frame a platform statement on this issue.  

... Dr. D's?

It seems VERY reasonable to divide the basic responses to this into (1) spiritual and (2) non-spiritual.  If we're fairly confident that a Creator would intervene to prevent a super-intelligent AI from nuking us, we can use reasonable precaution and go ahead living our lives (including, ahem, researching AI).  If we rule that out, we'd better get about the business of deciding how much of our GNP should be allocated to the planet's life insurance :- )

And Dr. D would not be above Tongue-In-Cheek ripostes during televised debates:  wouldn't a very cheap form of Planetary Life Insurance be to criminalize all scientific research that could feasibly lead to the planet's demise?  What the deuce are we doing researching nanotech and AI if each field has a good 5% chance of ending us within 84 years?!



Ahhhhhhh.  :: shrug ::  :: winning smile ::  The Declaration of Independence tells us that we are endowed by Our Creator with an inalienable right to life.  About 95% of you watching tonight have a pretty good idea that He isn't going to let a comet the size of Texas land on the Eiffel Tower next year.  ... But for the 5% of my friends, who sincerely believe that self-protection is totally up to Humankind, well, sure.  I would favor a Congressional Action Committee to propose a budget and a set of laws addressing the issue.  Let's do it.  It should help us find middle ground on where to put the money.

Like Bill James said, there's still a 1-in-15 chance that the Mariners will go another 39 years without a World Series, or until the megatsunami, whichever comes first.  Do you smoke?






As a mayor, I resisted municipal prouncements on issues outside our paygrade.  We often fielded requests to issue statements in opposition to a variety of federal policies. Twice, I believe, we were asked to oppose federal gun control policy, both times on the basis of its "unconstitutionality."  Although an owner of several hunting rifles, I pointed out that we had a court system tasked exactly with determining the issue of constitutionality.   Another time it was on the constitutionality of driver's liscense.  Sheeeeesh.  As a council, we left such issues to the folks in the paygrades above us.  Wait, that would be everybody......so we left them to the courts, then...and issued no statement.  They would have had no impact, anyway, and we had more pressing municipal concerns.  

On a more provincial issue, the home of my collegiate alma mater was once preparing to "prevent" the passage of coal trains through the community.  This was as a proposed coal export facility on the coast was being discussed.  While they couldn't actually "prevent' such trains their intent was to influence state policy.  (The science establishes no health risk because of coal trains passing, btw.)  Because their ordinance was going to impact my part of the state I requested the opportunity to make the counter-argument and, along with a more knowledgeable person than I, was accorded the opportunity.

When the day came we were booed by the audience...what a hoot.  The council was nearly unanimous in moving forward despite my (I thought) great arguments. 

On the issue of a platform statement about "Global Catastrophic Risk," I would steer clear, as well.  Firstly I think that the Wiki-bots have the risk of human extinction by 2100 about a 100 times too high.  Secondly, no matter how much you argue against the Wiki-bot case with all the best evidence, you sway no one.  Thirdly, "End of Days" predictions have been coming around on a regular basis since about, oh, say...Isaiah and Ezekial.  So far they've all pulled a big o'fer.  Even the Inca's whiffed.  I would recommend any city just leave it alone and figure out how to improve service, repair roads, upgrade sanitation facilites, police the streets, have capital improvement plans, get to know your state and federal agencies (developing a relationship with them) and your legislators (ditto at both levels) and have emegency plans in place for earthquakes and tsunamis (if you're on the PNW coast).

Stuff like that.

Leave predicting the arrival date of the cataclysms to folks wearing the garments of hair, and the AI's to science fiction writers.  At least for now.

But keeping 20 gallons of water in your garage isn't a bad idea!  :) 



Here I used to think you were just a wealthy scratch golfer with a flask of MacCutcheon 60 in your bag :- )

No, I didn't.  ... what a concise, compelling description of the slop end of a political stick.  Hard to find a word in that comment that isn't a pearl.  ... and I always thought that one of the most distasteful parts of political leadership would be getting shouted down by a 'lynch mob' even though you knew you were on the right side of the ball.

GREAT comment.


I used to be one of those three.  I was batting .333!  That's worth $120M on th FA market!!  Thanks for the comments and especially for not pointing out the 10 or 11 (I counted) typos I had.  I think I fixed them all.  Maybe.  I'm afraid to read it again and find more!!

OBF's picture

Here is the Wiki on it:  Grey Goo

But it is essentially the Nanotechnology accident at 0.5% listed in the top ten above, Or the Molecular nanotechnology weapons at 5% where the person who fires it forgets to turn it off, or doesn't know how to, or is just suicidal...

The reason it is called grey goo is because individually or even a large cluster of the tiny molecular sized nano machines would not be visible, but a huge clump of them (many billions of them) would just look like a large gelatenous mass to our eyes because the idividual members would not be discernable.  Thus a large grey blog...  or goo :)  Grey is just our imaginations idea of what a machine is colored, but in all llikelihood the color would be determined by whatever color the designer made the inital micromachines to be, and if when they replicated they made new ones that were colored the same or were programed to make different colors or what.  All of which would be determined by the material they are made out of and the avalible material, but I digress...  Grey Goo it is ;)

OBF's picture

But I don't understand this concept:

If we're fairly confident that a Creator would intervene... 

I am not sure where in the bible you are finding this confidence...  Certainly an end is coming, and we don't know when or how.  Why is it inconcoievable that God would use a commet, or nano technology to give the final blow?  Why wouldn't he let a commet the size of Texas land on the effiel tower?  Without getting into millennialism and liertal vs. figuritive readings of Revelation and all that...  The world is going away at some point, and if God simply wants to say, "It is finished" and everything goes poof, or he wants to throw in a few commets and see what happens...  well He can do it.  


... that if the Creator DECREES an end to the planet, then a big U.S. $$ budgetary allocation to prevent it, that's not likely to counter much, anyway ... :- )

The subject was INADVERTENT, non-theistic, non-Decreed self-destructs by mankind.  Those, we Christians take as faith that they are zero threat.  ... When we're in that role, of course.  A Christian who is in the role of U.S. Congressman must put on his "representative" hat and ask what his constituents deem prudent.


Since you axed, would be interested to hear your take on 2 Pet 3:6-10.  This (written almost as Peter's last words before his martyrdom) says that whereas the first "re-boot" was by water, the final "shutdown" will be fiery, so fiery that the 'elements' (Gr. stoicheia, basic particles) will be 'dissolved' (Gr. lythesetai, melted, loosed, deconstructed).  So I'd be interested to hear from readers which of Wiki's scenarios (if any) could be construed as consistent with that.

Sounds to me like a gigantic solar flare at bare minimum -- the TV series Heroes is based on this idea -- or a "Big Bang" type cosmological event more likely.

:: shrug :: what do we ants and termites know about anything ...

OBF's picture

Personally I think we over estimate our intelligence, and I agree with Moe that all of those dire percentages are missing a bunch of x 10^-10's...  Instead of hand waving and calling things "about 5% chance" if we really want to investigate our chance of offing ourselves we need to be using something rigorus and systematic like PRA (Probabalistic Risk Assesment) and we will quickly find ourselevs in the decimal followed by many zeros percentages...

In general we take such a self centered view of things.  The fact that they have all the man made problems as more probable than natural ones is evidence of this, and frankly hilarious based on what ACTUALLY kills humans...  here's a hint...  it is almost ALWAYS nature :)  I might make things worse by smoking or eating a lot of fatty foods, but in the end, it is still nature dealing the final blow, and in the end it will be nature that finishes off humanity as well, UNLESS....  

Ta Da, we do something about it. Hence my answer to the origional question about wether we should be pedal to the medal in all scientific endevors, potential negative consequence be, umm, darned (is "damned" a swear word?)...


Is gloabal warming a threat?  Sure, lets go full steam ahead on Nuclear Power tech, and stop all carbon emissions!

Is there things that could be fixed or improved about our genes?  Of course, lets go full steam ahead on genetic engineering!

Is there a chance that our current earth could be destroied by something (Mega Tsunami, commet, Earthquake, Nuclear war, etc, etc)?  Of course, lets go try to colonize mars! (thank you Elon Musk!)

Plus wether you try to squelch it our not, technology and science is not something you will be able to stop anyways, so we might as well have as many good people looking at it as possible, so that the benefits can be reaped and the negative consequences idetified and addressed.  Anything and everything can be used for evil, that doesn't mean we should stick our heads in the sand and then be shocked and suprised when someone else comes up with them first, it means we need to be AHEAD of the curve, on the leading edge, to cut off potential evil...  And even then it will still happen.  

Might as well get some good benefits too :)


There's an irony here amigo ... the 'self-centered' view, the one that says rich fat Americans are going to be the demise of the planet, actually has an undertone that we should 'know our place.'  That people have no more right to Alaska than the Caribou do.  (How's the hunting going, Mojo?)

The spiritual point of view (as you know) grants a tremendous dignity to human beings, one far above animals (no living in your own filth, no abject humiliation from the alpha male of the pack, the opportunity to matter on a huge scale, etc etc).  But then it tasks humans with the responsibility of taking a knee and being grateful and philosophical about his place in the scheme of things.

Great post m'man.

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