Archive for the ‘existential risks’ category: Page 97

An excellent article by Bruce Schneier on the psychology of security is available here. It starts as follows:

Security is both a feeling and a reality. And they’re not the same.

The reality of security is mathematical, based on the probability of different risks and the effectiveness of different countermeasures. We can calculate how secure your home is from burglary, based on such factors as the crime rate in the neighborhood you live in and your door-locking habits. We can calculate how likely it is for you to be murdered, either on the streets by a stranger or in your home by a family member. Or how likely you are to be the victim of identity theft. Given a large enough set of statistics on criminal acts, it’s not even hard; insurance companies do it all the time.

We can also calculate how much more secure a burglar alarm will make your home, or how well a credit freeze will protect you from identity theft. Again, given enough data, it’s easy.

A valuable paper by Jason Matheny of the University of Maryland is “Reducing the Risk of Human Extinction”. The abstract is as follows:

In this century a number of events could extinguish humanity. The probability of these events may be very low, but the expected value of preventing them could be high, as it represents the value of all future lives. We review the challenges to studying human extinction risks and, by way of example, estimate the cost-effectiveness of preventing extinction-level asteroid impacts.

NASA estimates the cost to find at least 90 percent of the 20,000 potentially hazardous asteroids and comets by 2020 would be about \$1 billion, according to a report NASA will release later this week. It would cost \$300 million if a asteroid locating telescope was piggybacked on another vehicle. The report was previewed Monday at a Planetary Defense Conference in Washington.

The agency is already tracking bigger objects, at least 3,300 feet in diameter, that could wipe out most life on Earth, much like what is theorized to have happened to dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But even that search, which has spotted 769 asteroids and comets — none of which is on course to hit Earth — is behind schedule. It’s supposed to be complete by the end of next year.

A cheaper option would be to simply piggyback on other agencies’ telescopes, a cost of about \$300 million, also rejected, Johnson said.

Graduate student (University of Alabama Huntsville) Blake Anderton wrote his master’s thesis on “Application of Mode-locked lasers to asteroid characterization and mitigation.” Undergraduate Gordon Aiken won a prize at a recent student conference for his poster and presentation “Space positioned LIDAR system for characterization and mitigation of Near Earth Objects.” And members of the group are building a laser system “that is the grandfather of the laser that will push the asteroids,” Fork said.

Anderton’s mode locked lasers could characterize asteroids up to 1 AU away (1.5 × 10 to the 11 meters). Arecibo and other radar observatories can only detect objects up to 0.1 AU away, so in theory a laser would represent a vast improvement over radar.

A one page powerpoint describes their asteroid detection and deflection approach About 12 of the 1AU detection volumes (around the sun in the asteroid belt) would be needed to cover the main areas for near earth asteroids.

40KW femtosecond lasers could deflect an asteroid the size of Apophis (320meters, would hit with 880 megaton force) given one year of illumination and an early start in the trajectory.

A giant asteroid named Apophis has a one in 45,000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2036. If it did hit the earth it could destroy a city or a region. A slate of new proposals for addressing the asteroid menace was presented today at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.

One of the Lifeboat Foundation projects is an Asteroid Shield and the issues and points discussed are in direct alignment with Lifeboat. The specific detection and deflection projects are in the Lifeboat Asteroid Shield project.

Edward Lu of NASA has proposed “gravitational tractor” is a spacecraft—up to 20 tons (18 metric tons)—that it could divert an asteroid’s path just by thrusting its engines in a specific direction while in the asteroid’s vicinity.

Scientists also described two massive new survey-telescope projects to detect would-be killer asteroids.

Two new reports on global security conclude with a growing risk for nuclear terrorism Reuters report today.

The EastWest Institute and Chatham House, the two think-tanks behind the reports, cite that more states are pursuing their own nuclear ambitions and that the materials and engineering effort for a bomb “have all become commodities, more or less available to those determined enough to acquire them”.

The vulnerability of nuclear power plants are mentioned. This is highly relevant considering all the new power plants under planning or construction. Read about the planned terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant in Australia, “Australia nuclear plant plot trial opens in Paris”, Reuters.

But most suprisingly:

Now with graphical goodness.

(Click small one for big one.)

An existential risk is a global catastrophic risk that threatens to exterminate humanity or severely curtail its potential. Existential risks are unique because current institutions have little incentive to mitigate them, except as a side effect of pursuing other goals. There is little to no financial return in mitigating existential risk. Bostrom (2001) argues that because reductions in existential risks are global public goods, they may be undervalued by the market. Also, because we have never confronted a major existential risk before, we have little to learn from, and little impetus to be afraid. For more information, see this reference.

There are three main categories of existential risk — threats from biotechnology, nanotechnology, and AI/robotics. Nuclear proliferation itself is not quite an existential risk, but widespread availability of nuclear weapons could greatly exacerbate future risks, providing a stepping stone into a post-nuclear arms race. We’ll look at that first, then go over the others.

Nuclear risk. The risk of nuclear proliferation is currently high. The United States is planning to spend \$100 billion on developing new nuclear weapons, and reports suggest that the President is not doing enough to curtail nuclear proliferation, despite the emphasis on the War on Terror. Syria, Qatar, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates met to announce they their desire to develop nuclear technology. North Korea successfully tested a nuclear weapon in October. Iran continues enriching uranium against the will of the United Nations, and an Iranian official hinted that the country may be obtaining nuclear weapons. Last night, President Bush used the most confrontational language yet towards Iran, accusing it of directly providing weapons and funds to combatants killing US soldiers. The geopolitical situation today with respect to nuclear technology is probably the worst it has been since the Cold War.

Biotechnological risk. The risk of biotechnological disaster is currently high. An attempt among synthetic life researchers to formulate a common set of ethical standards, at the International Conference on Synthetic Biology, has failed. Among the synthetic biology and biotechnology communities, there is little recognition of the risk of genetically engineered pathogens. President Bush’s plan to spend \$7.1 billion on bird flu vaccines was decreased to \$2.3 billion by Congress. There is little federal money being spent on research to develop blanket countermeasures against unanticipated biotechnological threats. There are still custom DNA synthesis labs that fill orders without first scanning for harmful sequences. Watch-lists for possible bioweapon sequences are out of date, and far from comprehensive. The cost of lab equipment necessary to make bioweapons has decreased in cost and increased in performance, putting it within the financial reach of terrorist organizations. Until there is more oversight in this area, the risk will not only remain, but increase over time. For more information, see this report.

Page 97 of 97First9091929394959697