From the Bible to Nostradamus to conspiracy-rife corners of YouTube, apocalyptic predictions everywhere. Of course, some are rooted in reality more than others. Here are six ways the world could end according to science and fact.
1. TECHNOLOGICAL TAKEOVER
Some high-profile names like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk argue that “full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” although, to be fair, the scientific community as a whole is divided over this scenario. Nevertheless, as technology becomes more advanced, the debate over AI ethics and safety concerns will likely only increase.
One terrifying theory, originally presented by engineer Eric Drexler in his book Engines of Creation, posits that nanomachines—created to rid the ocean of oil and pollution, or to aid in medical procedures—could begin exponentially self-replicating. Deemed the “grey goo theory,”
Drexler argued that, in a nanomachine disaster, “in less than two days, they would outweigh the Earth; in another four hours, they would exceed the mass of the Sun and all the planets combined.”Drexler has since gone on to say he regrets prompting some of the anti-nanotechnology sentiment that arose in response to his grey goo hypothesis. However, his theory is just one of the many apocalyptic scenarios that could manifest as a result of AI.
2. GLOBAL WARMING
According to a YouGov poll taken earlier this year, 91 percent of people aren’t worried about global warming, despite the fact that 2015 saw an unprecedented spike in CO2 levels. The effect of rising global temperatures is particularly evident in the Arctic. Take a look at this NASA image of the Arctic Ocean in which the clear loss of ice suggests the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free by summer 2040.
3. MALTHUSIAN CATASTROPHE (OVERPOPULATION)
As political forces encouraged a high birth rate during the global rush to improve economic performance, humanity saw its population grow from 1 billion in 1804 to 2 billion in 1927, doubling in less than 50 years. With a global population projected to be between 8–10 billion by 2050, this acceleration could spell trouble for us. Earth’s resources are finite, and humanity is known to be wasteful. Described by Thomas Malthus, “Malthusian Catastrophe” is the moment when population growth outpaces agricultural output. It is difficult to predict if this situation would quickly exterminate the human race, but it would surely lead to increased human conflict and environmental disasters.
4. GLOBAL PESTILENCE
In 1918, the Spanish Flu—a strain of the H1N1 virus—killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million people. We generally like to believe that we live in a safer and cleaner world where public health concerns protect most people from such diseases, but the second H1N1 pandemic in 2009 showed that intensive farming has only increased the risk of pandemics.
Melting ice due to global warming is also releasing deadly diseases such as anthrax in the Arctic Circle. On top of that, chlamydia and gonorrhea are becoming more difficult to treat due to antibiotic resistance. Unfortunately, our current world offers a favorable environment for recombination and mutation of viruses, thus promoting the creation of new strains. As pathogens become more resistant to treatments, the possibility of a virtually untreatable virus appearing to rapidly wipe us out becomes more of a concern.
5. DEEP IMPACT EVENT
The first major asteroid impact hit Earth nearly 2 billion years ago, and since then we’ve experienced a couple of close calls. The probability of a deep asteroid impact is unlikely, but, depending on the size of the object, it could have disastrous effects on humanity. Mega-tsunamis 300-feet high could instantly ravage all coastal areas, followed by a string of seismic and climatic disasters, like a global winter due to the thick layer of dust that would cover Earth for years. For an asteroid to cause a major catastrophe, it would only have to be half a mile wide.
It is estimated that the 6-mile wide Chicxulub asteroid that hit Earth 65 million years ago created 3.1-mile high waves and killed more than 75 percent of all life on Earth at the time. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again anytime soon.
In the meantime, better safe than sorry: Prepare the bunkers!
[via io9] Featured photo: Sean Gallup / Getty Images