Global Catastrophic Risks Hardcover – 3 Jul 2008
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This volume is remarkably entertaining and readable...It's risk assessment meets science fiction. (Natural Hazards Observer)
The book works well, providing a mine of peer-reviewed information on the great risks that threaten our own and future generations. (Nature)
We should welcome this fascinating and provocative book. (Martin J Rees (from foreword))
[Provides] a mine of peer-reviewed information on the great risks that threaten our own and future generations. (Nature)
A global catastrophic risk is one with the potential to wreak death and destruction on a global scale. In human history, wars and plagues have done so on more than one occasion, and misguided ideologies and totalitarian regimes have darkened an entire era or a region. Advances in technology are adding dangers of a new kind. It could happen again. In Global Catastrophic Risks 25 leading experts look at the gravest risks facing humanity in the 21st century, including natural catastrophes, nuclear war, terrorism, global warming, biological weapons, totalitarianism, advanced nanotechnology, general artificial intelligence, and social collapse. The book also addresses over-arching issues - policy responses and methods for predicting and managing catastrophes. This is invaluable reading for anyone interested in the big issues of our time; for students focusing on science, society, technology, and public policy; and for academics, policy-makers, and professionals working in these acutely important fields.See all Product description
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As another reviewer has commented on, "obscure and unlikely" risks receive as much, if not more, attention than the more well known risks but the book makes it very clear from the onset that it is not supposed to be a manual for saving the world. Instead, it is simply trying to inform readers about global catastrophic risks as a wider issue (the book includes several chapters on sociological aspects such as cognitive biases) rather than specifically trying to help people prepare for them. I think it does this very well.
Four stars for a not very exiting but industrious work.
As I was reading the child-like introduction by Martin J. Rees, who lashes out at those he sees as a threat in a similar way to a kid in the playground starts name calling when he's not getting his way, I knew it was going to be an uphill struggle. To quote one sentence: "And there are extreme eco-freaks who believe that the world would be better off if it were rid of humans." Convince me that we are beneficial to life on earth with well constructed arguments and I will try to see just how "better off" the world is with us lot subjugating nature to our own selfish ends. But it will take a lot to convince me!
The book doesn't claim to cover every conceivable threat to human existence on the planet, but the threats that are included are not necessarily the most realistic. Whole chapters are devoted to what can only be termed as science-fiction: that we are part of some simulation and the "Director" of said simulation could tire of watching us and switch the simulation off. Huh? Another chapter is devoted to artificial intelligence that will somehow begin a life of it's own. Come on, people, there are more realistic threats that we should be concerned with, such as disease (a mere 17 pages compared to 35 on artificial intelligence), weaponry (only nuclear and biological weapons are covered), natural events that come as a result of over-population (this is the single biggest threat to human life on earth as no-one is addressing the issue and we expect the earth to support an infinite number of humans - truly absurd!).
The chapter on cognitive bias was probably the most interesting chapter for me, which is about how difficult it is to be truly objective in trying to assess risks. This makes sense as it takes selfless introspection to truly transcend the bias of our human nature, i.e.: the instincts that drive us. The assumption that human beings are the most intelligent life-forms ever to inhabit the planet, that the planet would be worse-off if we were not here - these are emotionally-driven statements that come from the deepest instinct of all - that of survival. They are not intellectual arguments and have no place in a scientific body of work.
One thing that does strike me is how little we know of the past. There is a lot of guesswork, a lot of assumptions, a lot of "probables". This is not factual nor is it scientific, so why do so-called scientists put it forward as "fact"?
All-in-all, I was left quite numb after reading this book. Not because of any threats to the existence of "human" life on earth, but the arrogance that shines through from all these "intellectuals". As far as they are concerned, human beings are the only things that matter and everything else on the planet, in the universe, is there for the taking. It is this attitude towards life that will lead to our extinction and for the sake of the rest of life on this wonderful and unique planet, the sooner the better! Even if we became extinct next week, we would leave behind a terrible legacy, one that we should be ashamed of (assuming that any of us have a sense of humility, that is).