Bobby here is apparently really sick. And of course, there’s nothing I can do about it. *sigh*
While this article on existential risks has been around for some time now, this is the first time I’ve seen it. An “existential risk” here is something that poses a threat to humanity as a whole, like a 1km asteroid impact, or evil aliens, or swarms of self-replicating nanobots. It’s all very hypothetical, but the guy who wrote the article is in the philosophy department. Philosophers are supposed to deal with hypothetical situations. I was surprised; like most people, I expect philosophy to be concerned with lofty abstruse topics and not about things that mostly occur in bad sci-fi movies.
Section 8.4 is, or should be, thought-provoking. However, it’s untestable and probably unavoidable if true, so considering it as a risk is sort of non-productive. We might be better off worrying about the “gray goo” scenario where swarms of nanobots eat everything.
However, I don’t know if a gray goo scenario is really feasible. You already have billions of nanoscale replicators in your intestines, and they haven’t eaten you. True, E. coli bacteria are mostly made of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, but they’ve been around for billions of years. In all that time, they’ve never sequestered all the available biological raw materials. Roundworms and paramecia and a bunch of other things eat bacteria. You could say that they wouldn’t eat CHON-based nanomachines, but that doesn’t make much sense. Most microscopic life will try to eat lots of things, and if roundworms can kill and digest CHON-based nanomachines, they will. If the nanomachines were metal-based instead of CHON-based, they might have a better chance against ordinary biological actors.
Still, nanotech is so new that our guesses about what it might do are wildly inaccurate. When computers were uncommon, we thought we’d have HAL 9000. Now that they’re everywhere, we have Nigerian 419 spam and Windows Vista. When TV was new, people thought it’d have culture and education, but TV ended up showing pro wrestling and “My Super Sweet 16″. Nanotech will probably play out in a similar way.
However, if we ever confront a real existential threat, I think we might be completely boned. The author states in section 2: “This requires foresight to anticipate new types of threats and a willingness to take decisive preventive action and to bear the costs (moral and economic) of such actions.” Humans are not good at foresight or decisive preventive action.
I went to the grocery store yesterday to pick up a couple of things and got another “free lousy ticket to the D-backs baseball game” receipt. This one’s for the June 14 game against the K.C. Royals. I’m tempted to go, but with gas at $4/gal, it’ll still be expensive to drive there and back. Ah well, less expensive major league baseball is always fun. Still a tad bummed over missing the similar “free ticket” for the game against the Detroit Tigers in May, since I can’t help liking Michigan’s only major-league team.