16 April, 2012

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

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

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-04-17/anders-breivik-trial-begins/3954478


in this facebook thread;

https://www.facebook.com/david.saintloth/posts/221273084638862

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 dependence...living 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 attacks...you 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, algae...it's every where...in 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 poison...it 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 it...in small amounts...so 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!!!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyanide

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 those...well....it 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 Roulette...off ourselves with the one bullet in the chamber using our barbaric culture and religion to fuel or advanced genetic and biological understanding....as possibly countless millions of planets that luckily got to this point did before us.  So much for that paradox."


Links:
http://sent2null.blogspot.com/2010/06/technology-will-it-kill-before-it-saves.html

http://sent2null.blogspot.com/2008/05/fermi-paradox-not-so-paradoxical.html