The Future of Humanity: Extinction or Space Travel?

#Future

Mon, Mar 11th, 2013 20:00 by capnasty NEWS

A lengthy but wonderfully philosophical read by Ross Andersen, on humanity's deep future: "When we peer into the fog of the deep future what do we see -- human extinction or a future among the stars?."

As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford is a strange choice to host a futuristic think tank, a salon where the concepts of science fiction are debated in earnest. The Future of Humanity Institute seems like a better fit for Silicon Valley or Shanghai. During the week that I spent with him, Bostrom and I walked most of Oxford’s small cobblestone grid. On foot, the city unfolds as a blur of yellow sandstone, topped by grey skies and gothic spires, some of which have stood for nearly 1,000 years. There are occasional splashes of green, open gates that peek into lush courtyards, but otherwise the aesthetic is gloomy and ancient. When I asked Bostrom about Oxford’s unique ambience, he shrugged, as though habit had inured him to it. But he did once tell me that the city's gloom is perfect for thinking dark thoughts over hot tea.

There are good reasons for any species to think darkly of its own extinction. Ninety-nine percent of the species that have lived on Earth have gone extinct, including more than five tool-using hominids. A quick glance at the fossil record could frighten you into thinking that Earth is growing more dangerous with time. If you carve the planet's history into nine ages, each spanning five hundred million years, only in the ninth do you find mass extinctions, events that kill off more than two thirds of all species. But this is deceptive. Earth has always had her hazards; it's just that for us to see them, she had to fill her fossil beds with variety, so that we could detect discontinuities across time. The tree of life had to fill out before it could be pruned.

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