Could Technology Pose A Greater Threat Than Nuclear Weapons?

Nick Bostrom of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute does not dismiss the threat posed by natural disasters, pandemics and nuclear war as constant threats to humanity, but he does not believe they will result in humanity’s extinction. In fact, he sees a greater danger in some of the technological advances made in recent decades and contends those are the existential threats that should be the focus of discussion.

Scientific Advances Have Eclipsed Our Ability To Control Them
Bostrom argues humanity has yet to fully realize that the advancement of technology has eclipsed our capacity to control the possible consequences. He and his colleagues take this issue on in a recently-released paper – Existential Risk Prevention As A Global Priority.

Daniel Dewey, a former employee at Google, tells BBC News that artificial intelligence, along with biotechnology and nanotechnology, “can do things with these technologies, typically chain reaction-type effects, so that starting with very few resources you could undertake projects that could affect everyone in the world.”

Threat Of Artificial Intelligence
Ross Andersen has written a comprehensive article in Aeon Magazine addressing Bostrom’s theories concerning human extinction, as well as related academic discussions about artificial intelligence and the future of the human race.

“An artificial intelligence wouldn’t need to better the brain by much to be risky. After all, small leaps in intelligence sometimes have extraordinary effects. Stuart Armstrong, a research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute, once illustrated this phenomenon to me with a pithy take on recent primate evolution. ‘The difference in intelligence between humans and chimpanzees is tiny,’ he said. ‘But in that difference lies the contrast between 7 billion inhabitants and a permanent place on the endangered species list. That tells us it’s possible for a relatively small intelligence advantage to quickly compound and become decisive,” he writes.

Scholars at the University of Cambridge also are studying threats to human existence. Dr. Martin Rees, an astrophysics professor, believes examining potential threats is more necessary today than ever because for the first time the impact of human behavior on the environment is “substantial.”

Rees also sees a growing threat posed by technology, particularly when placed in the wrong hands.

“We are threatened by small groups empowered by powerful technology. So this is the first century when one species, namely ours, will determine the future of the planet.

Dr. Peter Dobson tells The Oxford Student of his doubts about the dire warnings: “Nanotechnology has come through a decade of growth and survived some of the uninformed criticism that threatened its future […] we can say that ‘nano’ has moved from scientific curiosity to technology applications in many areas and will continue to do so.”


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