18 July 2008

Global Catastrophic Risks Conference: TEOTWAKI

This weekend's Global Catastrophic Risks conference at Oxford (17-20 July) offers a full menu of global doom.
The savants gathered here in Oxford will consider a wide variety of potentially apocalyptic risks. For example, Michelangelo Mangano from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) will explore the possibility that certain scientific research—e.g., the Brookhaven Lab's high energy experiments that might produce a black hole—could inadvertently destroy the world. Mike Treder and Chris Phoenix from the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology will discuss how the advent of molecular manufacturing could lead to massive economic and social disruptions, including a new arms race, the spread of tyranny, and dangerous environmental degradation. At the cosmic level, the Technion Institute's Arnon Dar will look at the devastation that a nearby supernova could wreak, and astronomer and author William Napier will evaluate the chances that the earth might soon suffer an asteroid strike. Whether future advanced artificial intelligences will think of us as pets or pests will be pondered by Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence research fellow Eliezer Yudkowsky.

In addition to the more exotic risks noted above, the conferees will also be discussing the prospects for nuclear war and nuclear terrorism. _Reason
Of course, it's usually the doom you don't expect that gets you in the end. But that shouldn't keep anyone from enjoying the contemplation of any number of disasters that suit their palate. If you are a peak oil punkass or a global warming freak, you would almost certainly be welcome in the pubs of Oxford this weekend, to commiserate about the various impending dooms of humanity.

If you actually want to live through most of the scenarios being discussed, you should probably join the nearest chapter of the Society for Creative Apocalyptology ®.

Update 20July08: Here is Ronald Bailey reporting from the conference with a roundup of catastrophic risks from space.

Update 24July08: This is Ron Bailey's final installment from the conference, with some not so reassuring looks at nuclear proliferation.

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