A map: Typology of human extinction risks

In 2008 I was work­ing on a Rus­sian lan­guage book “Struc­ture of the Global Catas­tro­phe, and I brought it to one our friends for re­view. He was ge­ol­o­gist Ara­novich, an old friend of my late mother’s hus­band.

We started to dis­cuss Steven­son’s probe a hy­po­thet­i­cal ve­hi­cle which could reach the earth’s core by melt­ing its way through the man­tle, tak­ing sci­en­tific in­stru­ments with it. It would take the form of a large drop of molten iron – at least 60 000 tons – the­o­ret­i­cally fea­si­ble, but prac­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble.

Milan Cirkovic wrote an ar­ti­cle ar­gu­ing against this pro­posal, in which he fairly con­cluded that such a probe would leave a molten chan­nel of de­bris be­hind it, and high pres­sure in­side the earth’s core could push this ma­te­rial up­wards. A catas­trophic de­gassing of the earth’s core could en­sue that would act like gi­ant vol­canic erup­tion, com­pletely chang­ing at­mo­spheric com­po­si­tion and kil­ling all life on Earth.

Our friend told me that in his in­sti­tute they had cre­ated an up­graded ver­sion of such a probe, which would be sim­pler, cheaper and which could drill down deeply at a speed of 1000 km per month. This probe would be a spe­cial nu­clear re­ac­tor, which uses its en­ergy to melt through the man­tle. (Some­thing similar was sug­gested in the movie “China syn­drome” about a pos­si­ble ac­ci­dent at a nu­clear power sta­tion – so I don’t think that pub­lish­ing this in­for­ma­tion would en­dan­ger hu­man­ity.) The de­tails of the re­ac­tor-probe were kept se­cret, but there was no money available for prac­ti­cal re­al­i­sa­tion of the pro­ject. I sug­gested that it would be wise not to cre­ate such a probe. If it were cre­ated it could be­come the cheap­est and most effec­tive dooms­day weapon, use­ful for wor­ld­wide black­mail in the rea­son­ing style of Her­man Khan.

But in this story the most sur­pris­ing thing for me was not a new way to kill mankind, but the ease with which I dis­cov­ered its de­tails. If your near­est friends from a cir­cle not con­nected with x-risks re­search know of a new way of de­stroy­ing hu­man­ity (while not fully recog­nis­ing it as such), how many more such ways are known to sci­en­tists from other ar­eas of ex­per­tise!

I like to cre­ate full ex­haus­tive lists, and I could not stop my­self from cre­at­ing a list of hu­man ex­tinc­tion risks. Soon I reached around 100 items, al­though not all of them are re­ally dan­ger­ous. I de­cided to con­vert them into some­thing like pe­ri­odic table — i.e to sort them by sev­eral pa­ram­e­ters — in or­der to help pre­dict new risks.

For this map I chose two main vari­ables: the ba­sic mechanism of risk and the his­tor­i­cal epoch dur­ing which it could hap­pen. Also any map should be based on some kind of fu­ture model, nd I chose Kurzweil’s model of ex­po­nen­tial tech­nolog­i­cal growth which leads to the cre­ation of su­per tech­nolo­gies in the mid­dle of the 21st cen­tury. Also risks are graded ac­cord­ing to their prob­a­bil­ities: main, pos­si­ble and hy­po­thet­i­cal. I plan to at­tach to each risk a wiki page with its ex­pla­na­tion.

I would like to know which risks are miss­ing from this map. If your ideas are too dan­ger­ous to openly pub­lish them, PM me. If you think that any men­tion of your idea will raise the chances of hu­man ex­tinc­tion, just men­tion its ex­is­tence with­out the de­tails.

I think that the map of x-risks is nec­es­sary for their pre­ven­tion. I offered prizes for im­prov­ing the pre­vi­ous map which illus­trates pos­si­ble pre­ven­tion meth­ods of x-risks and it re­ally helped me to im­prove it. But I do not offer prizes for im­prov­ing this map as it may en­courage peo­ple to be too cre­ative in think­ing about new risks.

Pdf is here: http://​​im­mor­tal­ity-roadmap.com/​​typriskeng.pdf