Skip to main content

Humans surviving extinction? A little less optimistic....

Facebook friend Steve Zara and I engaged a discussion on a thread for this article:

in this facebook thread;

At one point we were questioning how it is that the near future may lead to attacks using genetically engineered agents by unstable individuals could potentially lead to human extinction. Steve responded at one point with this statement.

"The effort required to reach 100% gets exponentially higher."

Where he was referring to the effectiveness of any attack in reducing the human population to zero. The problem is.......

"The fallacy Steve,  is that you're assuming we've got one way at a time to climb that exponential curve of possibility to extinction...we don't. When I can sit at my GDE (genetic engineering development environment) and code together a pathogen that will kill let us say only 60% of humans, 70% of bees and 80% of chicken and pigs outright in a few weeks...I am multiplying those exponential of troubles for humanity.

 There is no reason to think AT ALL that some one serious about ending us in 30 years won't be able to do it, GDE's will exist (hell in a sense they already do in the lab) when they break from the lab (just as computer programming and compilers did in the late 70's thanks to the pc revolution) it's game on..especially if we are still quibbling over which flavor of imaginary puppet master absent mindedly overlords the skies.

Unlike computer systems which have built in heterogeneity that makes hopping systems difficult...and also systems are not reliant on one another in the symbiotic ways that we've created our biological things are like one big rube goldberg machine waiting to fail when a few of the cogs are thrown off kilter.

Again, what is important is NOT absolute loss in the initial just need to get to the point where population replacement rate is lower than extant numbers...and if the people who survive are a random sample of humanity...guess how effective they'll tend to be at surviving in a devastated economy?? Eh...not much...almost anything is possible.

"I'm not neglecting Moore's law,just pointing out that we are about as hard to kill off completely as cockroaches."

-- Humanity is not even close to the robust nature of Roaches and you are neglecting the multiplying effects of simultaneous attacks on critical biological systems to our survival (as explained above)...let alone ability to thrive.

Roaches, unlike humans reproduce at significantly higher rates and unlike us again...can eat almost anything...they are the equivalent of nearly 400 million years of arthropod evolution for that niche...we ? Are a highly generalized animal that is highly reliant on the efficiencies that our supporting symbiotic biological relations have afforded us...obliterate those symbiosis and down comes the Ziggurat.

We are strongest when our social infrastructures (created to aid us to survive in group situations) keep us up...break those down...and we are to paraphrase what you Brits say "proper fucked.".

Here's an easy way to exterminate humanity using a single target vector,'s every fresh and salt water forms and it is critical to several important life systems including important in oxygenation processes.

Imagine a bug tinkered together by some crazy genius in 2042 that targets the 2 or 3 major forms of algae...this bug in fact would be able to infect those forms and modify their genes just so slightly so that through the normal process of digestion/photosynthesis and energy production the algae also puts together oh I don't know cyanide.

Now Cyanide is a cool is deadly in very small doses to Eukaryota cells...but algae being prokaryotes genetically modified to produce it would simply excrete it (or can be redesigned to do so)...the rest would be done by the sun and all that algae. The Eukaryota animals in the seas would all be dead within weeks, it would be next to impossible to sop up all the algae if a) you don't know where the infection points are and b) the algae reproduces so fast and floats all over the water system that is infected.

So here's what's funny, I was just using cyanide as an easy example...turns out some algae already produce small the work of our nefarious future agent(s) is cut out for him/them! Now he/they can just enhance the existing mechanism in a species of extant poison makers and let those loose!! This is too easy!!!

Now do that AND make a bug for pigs, bees, humans at the same time....and if you think the few thousand humans that some how survive are going to reclaim the Earth ...well I think the way you gauge probability of linked events is way off, way off.

In fact the Science of pathogenic spreading is very well known...a good Scientist wouldn't have to *guess* about how effective their poison would be...they would *be able to make a very good approximation* based on delivery methods, infection points...they also know how few humans are required to ensure survival and then shape their attack to hit the goal...then it would be game over.

Again, I am an optimist (when I do thought experiments like the one above I become less and less so) but it is entirely to easy to blank ourselves from this rock.

A bit of caution may come from the so called Fermi paradox, the idea that the galaxy is to big for us to have avoided being found by some advanced alien being. The idea being that even if they don't have star drives either they or their robot creations should have reached us by now....but what if getting to that point (of leaving your rock of origin) is SO HARD that most planets that survive the rock shooting gallery that are killer ELE asteroids, exploding parent stars, radiating parent stars....non EM radiating cores to protect against stellar rays (which directly prevent formation of complex molecules of which we are made)..the minority that are in their stars habitable zones to develop our kind of life (or some other equivalent) .the minority of planets that would maybe get to bacteria from even the hundreds of billions that Kepler is telling us circles the majority of stars we can see, and the number that get to dinosaur like land animals...or get further to sentient , self aware beings....and survive their IMMEDIATE desire to create Gods to explain their survival, engage in war and genocide (as we did) and avoid killing themselves in the power of the atomic bomb discovery...or when they get to biology...and chemistry..avoiding all kind of starts to make sense why it seems we are alone....

...we just may be *at this level of development* right at the point where we, playing planetary Russian ourselves with the one bullet in the chamber using our barbaric culture and religion to fuel or advanced genetic and biological possibly countless millions of planets that luckily got to this point did before us.  So much for that paradox."



healy said…
"60% of humans, 70% of bees and 80% of chicken and pigs outright in a few weeks"

Wait wait wait a minute. You can take my compatriots. You can take my chicken and honey. But don't you dare touch my BACON!

David said…
ha ha...funny Healy, funny....but seriously man....the magnitude of our situation is going to fall on us very hard and very fast...I hope we do make it out of this...but hey the Dinosaurs ruled for how long ?? 225 million? The Permian Triassic (sinodont mammal ancestors before the Dinosaurs) realm was another what 100 million years ???

Even the darn Eocene had spans of entire species (like the giant land birds Gastornis and their ilk) which ruled the planet for millions of years more than we have been here as a species.

And we like to think our intelligence and technology make us special??? Yes, it that we have the ability to use it to indirectly or directly *kill ourselves* which none of those other dynasties ever did...yes we are more advanced alright!

Popular posts from this blog

On the idea of "world wide mush" resulting from "open" development models

A recent article posted in the Wall Street Journal posits that the collectivization of various types of goods or services created by the internet is long term a damaging trend for human societies.

I think that the author misses truths that have been in place that show that collectivization is not a process that started with the internet but has been with us since we started inventing things.

It seems that Mr. Lanier is not properly defining the contexts under which different problems can benefit or suffer from collectivization. He speaks in general terms of the loss of the potential for creators to extract profit from their work but misses that this is and was true of human civilization since we first picked up a rock to use as a crude hammer. New things make old things obsolete and people MUST adapt to what is displaced (be it a former human performance of that task or use of an older product) so as to main…

Engineers versus Programmers

I have found as more non formally trained people enter the coding space, the quality of code that results varies in an interesting way.

The formalities of learning to code in a structured course at University involve often strong focus on "correctness" and efficiency in the form of big O representations for the algorithms created.

Much less focus tends to be placed on what I'll call practical programming, which is the type of code that engineers (note I didn't use "programmers" on purpose) must learn to write.

Programmers are what Universities create, students that can take a defined development environment and within in write an algorithm for computing some sequence or traversing a tree or encoding and decoding a string. Efficiency and invariant rules are guiding development missions. Execution time for creating the solution is often a week or more depending on the professor and their style of teaching code and giving out problems. This type of coding is devo…

1905: Annus Mirabilus - Photo electric effect

1905 was a great year for physics, in this year a 24 year old patent examiner in Bern Switzerland published 4 fundamental papers in physics in 4 disparate areas of the field. The topics included special relativity, the relationship between energy and matter, brownian motion and the subject of this post, the photo electric effect.

The photo electric effect paper by Einstein was probably the most practical paper next to the brownian motion paper in that it provided an answer to a long standing problem in electromagnetic theory at the time that had stood as an embarrassment to particle physics. This embarrasment was a legacy of the work of James Clerk Maxwell and his fundamental equations of electromagnetism, by using a continuous wave analog to describe the energy of propagating fields Maxwell was able to do the astonishing, he explained the riddle that was the relationship between electricity and magnetism in clear mathematical terms and he was able to show how light must be itself an …