supervolcano

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pages: 387 words: 105,250

The Caryatids by Bruce Sterling

carbon footprint, clean water, failed state, impulse control, negative equity, new economy, nuclear winter, semantic web, sexual politics, social software, starchitect, stem cell, supervolcano, urban renewal, Whole Earth Review

The most heavily trafficked tag was the strange coinage “Supervolcano.” Supervolcanoes had been a topic of mild intellectual interest for many years. Recently, people had talked much less about supervolcanoes, and with more pejoratives in their semantics. Web-semantic traffic showed that people were actively shunning the subject of supervolcanoes. That scientific news seemed to be rubbing people the wrong way. “So,” said Guillermo at last, “according to our best sources here, there are some giant … and I mean really giant magma plumes rising up and chewing at the West Coast of North America. Do we have a Family consensus about that issue?” Raph still wasn’t buying it. “The other sources said that ‘Yellowstone’ was a supervolcano. Not ‘Yosemite.’ Yellowstone is way over in Montana.” “You do agree that supervolcanoes exist, though.

Nobody else in the world wants to think about supervolcanoes.” Buffy was losing her temper. “But this is so totally unbelievable! The sky already darkened! The black rain already fell on us! We already have a climate crisis, we have one going on right now! Now we’re supposed to have another crisis, out of nowhere, because California blows up from some supervolcano? What are the odds?” “Well, that question’s pretty easy,” said Freddy. “A supervolcano under the Earth doesn’t care what we humans did to the sky. If it blows up, then it just blows up! So the odds of a supervolcano are exactly the same as they always were.” Rishi, who was bright, had gotten all interested. “Well, what exactly are the odds of a supervolcano? How often do supervolcanoes erupt, and turn the sky black, completely wrecking the climate, and so forth?”

“They exist. If you insist. But the last supervolcano was seventy-four thousand years ago. Not during this business quarter. Not this year. Not even one thousand years. Seventy-four thousand years, Freddy.” Freddy looked down and slowly quoted from his notepad. “ ‘The massive eruption of a supervolcano would be a planetary catastrophe. It would create years of freezing temperatures as volcanic dust and ash obscured the warmth of the sun. The sky will darken, black rain will fall, and the Earth will be plunged into the equivalent of a nuclear winter.’ ” Guillermo’s face went sour. “Okay, that is total baloney. ‘Nuclear winter,’ that sounds extremely corny to me.” “That’s because this source material is eighty years old. Geologists know a whole lot about supervolcanoes. Nobody else in the world wants to think about supervolcanoes.”


pages: 219 words: 63,495

50 Future Ideas You Really Need to Know by Richard Watson

23andMe, 3D printing, access to a mobile phone, Albert Einstein, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, BRICs, Buckminster Fuller, call centre, clean water, cloud computing, collaborative consumption, computer age, computer vision, crowdsourcing, dark matter, dematerialisation, digital Maoism, digital map, Elon Musk, energy security, failed state, future of work, Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute, germ theory of disease, global pandemic, happiness index / gross national happiness, hive mind, hydrogen economy, Internet of things, Jaron Lanier, life extension, Mark Shuttleworth, Marshall McLuhan, megacity, natural language processing, Network effects, new economy, oil shale / tar sands, pattern recognition, peak oil, personalized medicine, phenotype, precision agriculture, profit maximization, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Richard Florida, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, self-driving car, semantic web, Skype, smart cities, smart meter, smart transportation, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, Stuxnet, supervolcano, telepresence, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Malthus, Turing test, urban decay, Vernor Vinge, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, web application, women in the workforce, working-age population, young professional

They may, of course, be correct, in which case you probably won’t be reading this, but I’m erring on the side of unbridled optimism on this point. Some people claim that the Mayan calendar says that the world will end on December 21, 2012. Why might this occur? One commentator (a website called Armageddon online) says it’s to do with shifts in magnetic fields. The same commentator gives odds of 10:1 against a supervolcano erupting on the same date. That’s not it either. That’s just supervolcanoes. Other potentially devastating superevents might include a major eruption that triggers an earthquake, which triggers a series of other earthquakes or a tsunami the scale of which we’ve never experienced before. All of these events are highly unlikely to occur within our lifetimes, but they’re not impossible and if they were to occur the impacts could be catastrophic.

Toba, in Indonesia, about 70,000–77,000 years ago, was even bigger, probably the largest explosion on Earth in the past 25 million years. Big bang How you view earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis depends on where you live. If you live in Japan, for instance, you’ll be all too familiar with the destructive power of nature. If you live in San Francisco, and are relatively young, you will be less familiar. However, what we all have in common is that within living memory nobody has experienced what happens when a supervolcano explodes. Hopefully, nobody will know for at least a few thousand years. We’d cope, of course, but one sometimes wonders what the fallout would be in a world where supply-chain tolerances are so tight. The world is now interconnected like never before and global companies that source and transport components from all over the world cannot cope for long with major disturbances or disruptions in critical regions.

This volcano famously exploded around 1.3 million years ago and erupted an estimated 1,000km3 (240 cubic miles) of material. In contrast, in 1980, Mount St. Helens in the USA erupted just 1km3 (0.24 cubic miles) of material. Yellowstone is huge, as we can see from evidence of previous eruptions, and it tends to explode every 600,000 years or so. When was the last really big Yellowstone eruption? About 600,000 years ago! Dire results So what might happen if Yellowstone, or another supervolcano, exploded during our lifetime? Nobody knows, of course, but the implications could be truly devastating. “…They slept on the abyss without a surge—The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave, The Moon, their mistress, had expired before; The winds were withered in the stagnant air, And the clouds perished! Darkness had no need, Of aid from them—She was the universe” Lord Byron, Darkness, 1816 First, the explosion would physically remove anything even remotely nearby and the loss of tree cover could potentially result in major soil erosion, mud jams and floods.


pages: 1,034 words: 241,773

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker

3D printing, access to a mobile phone, affirmative action, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, anti-communist, Anton Chekhov, Arthur Eddington, artificial general intelligence, availability heuristic, Ayatollah Khomeini, basic income, Berlin Wall, Bernie Sanders, Black Swan, Bonfire of the Vanities, business cycle, capital controls, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, carbon footprint, clean water, clockwork universe, cognitive bias, cognitive dissonance, Columbine, conceptual framework, correlation does not imply causation, creative destruction, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dark matter, decarbonisation, deindustrialization, dematerialisation, demographic transition, Deng Xiaoping, distributed generation, diversified portfolio, Donald Trump, Doomsday Clock, double helix, effective altruism, Elon Musk, en.wikipedia.org, end world poverty, endogenous growth, energy transition, European colonialism, experimental subject, Exxon Valdez, facts on the ground, Fall of the Berlin Wall, first-past-the-post, Flynn Effect, food miles, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, frictionless, frictionless market, germ theory of disease, Gini coefficient, Hans Rosling, hedonic treadmill, helicopter parent, Hobbesian trap, humanitarian revolution, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, income inequality, income per capita, Indoor air pollution, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invention of writing, Jaron Lanier, Joan Didion, job automation, Johannes Kepler, John Snow's cholera map, Kevin Kelly, Khan Academy, knowledge economy, l'esprit de l'escalier, Laplace demon, life extension, long peace, longitudinal study, Louis Pasteur, Martin Wolf, mass incarceration, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Mikhail Gorbachev, minimum wage unemployment, moral hazard, mutually assured destruction, Naomi Klein, Nate Silver, Nathan Meyer Rothschild: antibiotics, Nelson Mandela, New Journalism, Norman Mailer, nuclear winter, obamacare, open economy, Paul Graham, peak oil, Peter Singer: altruism, Peter Thiel, precision agriculture, prediction markets, purchasing power parity, Ralph Nader, randomized controlled trial, Ray Kurzweil, rent control, Republic of Letters, Richard Feynman, road to serfdom, Robert Gordon, Rodney Brooks, rolodex, Ronald Reagan, Rory Sutherland, Saturday Night Live, science of happiness, Scientific racism, Second Machine Age, secular stagnation, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, Simon Kuznets, Skype, smart grid, sovereign wealth fund, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, Stuxnet, supervolcano, technological singularity, Ted Kaczynski, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, The Spirit Level, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, total factor productivity, union organizing, universal basic income, University of East Anglia, Unsafe at Any Speed, Upton Sinclair, uranium enrichment, urban renewal, War on Poverty, We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters, women in the workforce, working poor, World Values Survey, Y2K

Winerip, “Revisiting Y2K: Much Ado About Nothing?” New York Times, May 27, 2013. 13. G. Easterbrook, “We’re All Gonna Die!” Wired, July 1, 2003. 14. P. Ball, “Gamma-Ray Burst Linked to Mass Extinction,” Nature, Sept. 24, 2003. 15. Denkenberger & Pearce 2015. 16. Rosen 2016. 17. D. Cox, “NASA’s Ambitious Plan to Save Earth from a Supervolcano,” BBC Future, Aug. 17, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170817-nasas-ambitious-plan-to-save-earth-from-a-supervolcano. 18. Deutsch 2011, p. 207. 19. “More dangerous than nukes”: Tweeted in Aug. 2014, quoted in A. Elkus, “Don’t Fear Artificial Intelligence,” Slate, Oct. 31, 2014. “End of the human race”: Quoted in R. Cellan-Jones, “Stephen Hawking Warns Artificial Intelligence Could End Mankind,” BBC News, Dec. 2, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30290540. 20.

Even if we had remained technologically humble hunter-gatherers, we would still be living in a geological shooting gallery.13 A burst of gamma rays from a supernova or collapsed star could irradiate half the planet, brown the atmosphere, and destroy the ozone layer, allowing ultraviolet light to irradiate the other half.14 Or the Earth’s magnetic field could flip, exposing the planet to an interlude of lethal solar and cosmic radiation. An asteroid could slam into the Earth, flattening thousands of square miles and kicking up debris that would black out the sun and drench us with corrosive rain. Supervolcanoes or massive lava flows could choke us with ash, CO2, and sulfuric acid. A black hole could wander into the solar system and pull the Earth out of its orbit or suck it into oblivion. Even if the species manages to survive for a billion more years, the Earth and solar system will not: the sun will start to use up its hydrogen, become denser and hotter, and boil away our oceans on its way to becoming a red giant.

As long as we are entertaining hypothetical disasters far in the future, we must also ponder hypothetical advances that would allow us to survive them, such as growing food under lights powered with nuclear fusion, or synthesizing it in industrial plants like biofuel.15 Even technologies of the not-so-distant future could save our skin. It’s technically feasible to track the trajectories of asteroids and other “extinction-class near-Earth objects,” spot the ones that are on a collision course with the Earth, and nudge them off course before they send us the way of the dinosaurs.16 NASA has also figured out a way to pump water at high pressure into a supervolcano and extract the heat for geothermal energy, cooling the magma enough that it would never blow its top.17 Our ancestors were powerless to stop these lethal menaces, so in that sense technology has not made this a uniquely dangerous era in the history of our species but a uniquely safe one. For this reason, the techno-apocalyptic claim that ours is the first civilization that can destroy itself is misconceived.


pages: 370 words: 97,138

Beyond: Our Future in Space by Chris Impey

3D printing, Admiral Zheng, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, AltaVista, Berlin Wall, Buckminster Fuller, butterfly effect, California gold rush, carbon-based life, Charles Lindbergh, Colonization of Mars, cosmic abundance, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, discovery of DNA, Doomsday Clock, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, Eratosthenes, Haight Ashbury, Hyperloop, I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, Isaac Newton, Jeff Bezos, Johannes Kepler, John von Neumann, Kickstarter, life extension, low earth orbit, Mahatma Gandhi, Marc Andreessen, Mars Rover, mutually assured destruction, Oculus Rift, operation paperclip, out of africa, Peter H. Diamandis: Planetary Resources, phenotype, private space industry, purchasing power parity, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, risk tolerance, Rubik’s Cube, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Searching for Interstellar Communications, Silicon Valley, skunkworks, Skype, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, supervolcano, technological singularity, telepresence, telerobotics, the medium is the message, the scientific method, theory of mind, There's no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home - Ken Olsen, wikimedia commons, X Prize, Yogi Berra

Also, inbreeding is more likely, with offspring having an increased chance of recessive or deleterious traits.20 When geneticists sequenced the DNA of chimps and humans, they made the staggering discovery that a single band of thirty to eighty chimps can have more genetic diversity than all seven billion humans alive today.21 We have very little genetic diversity, even though it could have developed since we diverged from chimps six million years ago. Research on mankind’s restricted gene variation indicates that humans migrated out of Africa about 60,000 years ago, and at some stage before that our numbers may have dwindled to as low as two thousand. Some geneticists hypothesize that this bottleneck was caused by the explosion of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia and resulting major environmental change.22 Regardless of the cause, our genetic makeup hints at the fact that we were once in a perilous state, at the edge of extinction.23 More recent human history gives better examples of how to define the viable size of a space colony. When a new population is established by a small number of individuals from a larger population, it’s subject to the founder effect, first described by evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr.

His partial list of existential threats faced by humanity includes nuclear holocaust, genetically engineered superbugs, environmental disasters, asteroid impacts, terrorism, advanced and destructive artificial intelligence, uncontrollable nanotechnology, catastrophic high-energy physics experiments, and a totalitarian regime with advanced surveillance and mind-control technologies. Regarding existential threats that might act as a filter in our future, Bostrom makes another point. The requirement is not that it has a significant probability of destroying humanity. Rather, it must be able to plausibly destroy any advanced civilization. Asteroid strikes and supervolcanoes don’t qualify because they’re random events that some civilizations will survive and others won’t experience because their planet and solar system are different from ours. The technological innovations that drive the argument and act more effectively as filters are those that almost all civilizations eventually discover, where their discovery almost universally leads to disaster (Figure 55).

Louis, The (Lindbergh), 90 Spirit rover, 165 Sputnik 1, 37–39, 37, 40, 41, 51, 65, 141, 269 Sputnik 2, 47, 269 Sputnik 3, 39, 269 SR-71 “Blackbird,” 69 Stafford, Tom, 55 Stalin, Joseph, 35, 37, 253 Stapledon, Olaf, 253 Stapp, John, 46 Stark, Tony (Iron Man), 95, 96, 205 stars: ancient Greek concept of, 18 as basis of carbon, 256 in exoplanet detection, 126–28, 129, 130–31 Sun-like, 131, 133, 187, 215, 233, 236 Star Trek, 88, 90, 92, 167, 192, 228–29, 268 Star Trek: The Next Generation, 229, 232 Stephenson, Neal, 103 Stevenson, Robert, 114 Stone, Bill, 97–98, 161 string theory, 257 Student, The, 86 Sub-Biosphere 2, 197 suitports, 196 Sun: ancient Greek concept of, 18 demise of, 197, 286 as energy source, 124, 223, 253 formation of, 156 stars that are similar to, 131, 133, 187, 215, 233, 236 Sunjammer, 185, 284 Survivor (TV series), 75 suspended animation, 250–52 Synergia Ranch, 192 tachyons, 228 taikonauts, 142–43 tardigrades (water bears), 122 Tarter, Jill, 242–43 Tau Ceti, 187–88, 237 Teacher in Space program, 55, 74 technological maturity, 260–61 technology: advancements in, 127, 133, 159–60, 224, 231, 241, 250, 257–62, 288, 292 alien, 186–91 in cameras, 53 computation, 258–62 destructive potential of, 245–46 development of, 20 for efficient energy production, 220–24, 221 erroneous predictions about, 213–14 in foods, 115–16 human beings surpassed by, 258–59 Kardashev’s scale for, 253–54 outdated, 64–65, 106 of remote sensing, 175–91 of spacesuits, 195–96 speculative and hypothetical, 228–32 trust in, 98 in weaponry, 22–24 see also nanotechnology; specific technologies TED2014 conference, 178 telepathy, cybernetic, 206 teleportation, 228–32, 230, 252 telepresence, 176–79, 283 telerobotics, 177–78 telescopes, 31, 49–50, 126, 128, 129–30, 158, 163, 187, 190, 218, 235, 292–93 see also specific instruments Telstar, 153 Tereshkova, Valentina, 74 Terminator, The, 259 terraforming, 172–74, 182, 216–17, 227 terrestrial exoplanets, incidence of, 128, 129, 216, 241 terrorism, 152–53 Tesla, Nikola, 237 Tesla Motors, 96–97, 97 test pilots, 71–74, 272 Tethers Unlimited, 226 Thales, 18–19 “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” (Feynman), 180 thought experiments: and birth of science, 19 for Dyson sphere, 253–54 of Newton, 25 on self-replication, 226–27 3-D fabrication, 159, 160, 226–27, 226 thrust, in flight, 68–69, 72, 186, 220, 222–23 thymine, 6 Timbisha tribe, 118–19 Titan, 53, 125, 177, 182, 278 Tito, Dennis, 75, 170 Toba supervolcano, 202 toilets, in space travel, 116–17 Tokyo Broadcasting System, 75 tortoises, in space research, 49 Tower of Babel, 148 “Tranquility” (toilet), 117 transhumanism, 207–8 transit method, exoplanet detection by, 128–29, 128, 129, 130–31 “Transmission of Information by Extraterrestrial Civilizations” (Kardashev), 253 transporter devices, 228–32 TrES-2B (exoplanet), 132 tricorder devices, 92 Tristan da Cunha, 202–3 “True Story, A” (Lucian of Samosata), 20 Truman, Harry, 36 Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin Eduardovich, 26–28, 36, 72, 110, 149, 268 rocket equation of, see rocket equation Turing, Alan, 258–59 twin research studies, 98 Tziolas, Andreas, 224 UFOs, 142 belief in, 102, 238 proported sightings of, 239, 240 Ulam, Stanislaw, 221 uncertainty principle, 229–30, 291 United Arab Emirates (UAE), 106 United Nations, 47, 141, 145, 147, 214 General Assembly, 42 Moon Treaty of, 279 United States, 141 bureaucracy of, 105–9 China’s relations with, 144 energy consumption of, 222 founding of, 109 government shutdown of 2013 in, 63–64 rocket development in, 28–30, 35–39 space policy debate in, 146–47 space program of, 38, 40–45, 47, 50, 51, 55–56, 56, 63–64, 72, 74–75, 107, 140–141, 140, 154, 184, 195, 296, 271; see also National Aeronautics and Space Administration in World War II, 34 Uranus: probes to, 52 as uninhabitable, 125 V-2 ballistic missile (Retaliation/Vengeance Weapon 2), 30–36, 33, 47, 48 vacuum: as lethal, 54, 108 rocket function in, 30 of space, 70, 108, 126, 195, 222 Vanguard rocket, 36–38, 269 Van Thillo, Mark, 194 Vega (star), 236 Venera 7, 51 Venus: Earth compared to, 171, 215 fly-by of, 51 nanobot exploration of, 182 probes to, 40, 51, 184, 270 property rights on, 145 as uninhabitable, 124 Verne, Jules, 26, 28, 117, 183, 239 vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) rockets, 103 Very Large Array, 236 videoconferencing, 176 video games: evolution of, 175–77 simulation compared to, 261 Vietnam War, 158 Viking probes, 51, 52, 164, 176 Virgin Atlantic airline, 87 Virgin Galactic, 88–89, 88, 101, 105–6, 113 Virgin Group, 87 Virgin records, 86–87 virtual reality, 176–77 volcanoes: on Earth, 119, 202 on Io, 53, 177 as source of heat energy, 124 super-, 245 Volna rocket, 184 Vomit Comet, 114 von Braun, Wernher, 28, 30–36, 38, 76, 140, 166–67, 269 von Kármán, Theodore, 141 von Littrow, Joseph, 238 von Neumann, John, 227, 258–59 von Neumann probes, 227, 258 Voskhod 2 spacecraft, 108 Vostok 1 spacecraft, 40–41 Voyager 1, 52, 53, 121, 121, 125, 219, 225 Voyager aircraft, 83 Wakata, Koichi, 273 Wallace, Alfred Russel, 164 Wang Yaping, 142–43 Wan Hu, 21–22, 22, 24, 31, 139, 141 warfare, rockets in, 22–24, 30, 32–34 War of the Worlds, The (Wells), 164 warp drive, 228–29 Warwick, Kevin, 206–8 Wasp 18b (exoplanet), 132 water: acidification of, 195 as biomarker, 217–18 on Earth, 172 on Europa, 125 on exoplanets, 132 on Mars, 124–25, 163–66, 165, 170, 172, 173 on Moon, 159–61 as requirement for life, 123–25, 132, 214, 217 in space travel, 116, 159 Watson, Thomas, 213 weaponry: nuclear, 36, 38 technological roots of, 22–24 weightlessness, 54, 88, 114, 167–68, 200 Weisman, A., 293 Welles, Orson, 164 Wells, H.


pages: 654 words: 204,260

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Alfred Russel Wallace, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Arthur Eddington, Barry Marshall: ulcers, Brownian motion, California gold rush, Cepheid variable, clean water, Copley Medal, cosmological constant, dark matter, Dava Sobel, David Attenborough, double helix, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, Kuiper Belt, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Menlo Park, Murray Gell-Mann, out of africa, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, supervolcano, Thomas Malthus, Wilhelm Olbers

As soon as Christiansen saw the photos he realized why he had failed to spot the caldera: virtually the whole park—2.2 million acres—was caldera. The explosion had left a crater more than forty miles across—much too huge to be perceived from anywhere at ground level. At some time in the past Yellowstone must have blown up with a violence far beyond the scale of anything known to humans. Yellowstone, it turns out, is a supervolcano. It sits on top of an enormous hot spot, a reservoir of molten rock that rises from at least 125 miles down in the Earth. The heat from the hot spot is what powers all of Yellowstone's vents, geysers, hot springs, and popping mud pots. Beneath the surface is a magma chamber that is about forty-five miles across—roughly the same dimensions as the park—and about eight miles thick at its thickest point.

No one has the faintest idea how or why Yellowstone's ended up beneath a continental plate. Only two things are certain: that the crust at Yellowstone is thin and that the world beneath it is hot. But whether the crust is thin because of the hot spot or whether the hot spot is there because the crust is thin is a matter of heated (as it were) debate. The continental nature of the crust makes a huge difference to its eruptions. Where the other supervolcanoes tend to bubble away steadily and in a comparatively benign fashion, Yellowstone blows explosively. It doesn't happen often, but when it does you want to stand well back. Since its first known eruption 16.5 million years ago, it has blown up about a hundred times, but the most recent three eruptions are the ones that get written about. The last eruption was a thousand times greater than that of Mount St.

And ash, it is worth remembering, is not like a big snowfall that will melt in the spring. If you wanted to grow crops again, you would have to find some place to put all the ash. It took thousands of workers eight months to clear 1.8 billion tons of debris from the sixteen acres of the World Trade Center site in New York. Imagine what it would take to clear Kansas. And that's not even to consider the climatic consequences. The last supervolcano eruption on Earth was at Toba, in northern Sumatra, seventy-four thousand years ago. No one knows quite how big it was other than that it was a whopper. Greenland ice cores show that the Toba blast was followed by at least six years of “volcanic winter” and goodness knows how many poor growing seasons after that. The event, it is thought, may have carried humans right to the brink of extinction, reducing the global population to no more than a few thousand individuals.


Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All by Michael Shellenberger

Albert Einstein, Asperger Syndrome, Bernie Sanders, Bob Geldof, carbon footprint, Cesare Marchetti: Marchetti’s constant, clean water, Corn Laws, coronavirus, corporate social responsibility, correlation does not imply causation, cuban missile crisis, decarbonisation, deindustrialization, Dissolution of the Soviet Union, Donald Trump, Elon Musk, energy transition, failed state, Gary Taubes, global value chain, Google Earth, hydraulic fracturing, index fund, Indoor air pollution, indoor plumbing, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Internet Archive, land tenure, Live Aid, LNG terminal, long peace, manufacturing employment, mass immigration, meta analysis, meta-analysis, off grid, oil shale / tar sands, Potemkin village, purchasing power parity, Ralph Nader, renewable energy transition, Steven Pinker, supervolcano, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, too big to fail, trade route, union organizing, WikiLeaks, Y2K

That’s not to say that a catastrophic tipping point scenario is impossible, only that there is no scientific evidence that one would be more probable or catastrophic than other potentially catastrophic scenarios, including an asteroid impact, super-volcanoes, or an unusually deadly influenza virus. Consider the other threats humankind has recently been forced to cope with. In July 2019, NASA announced it had been caught by surprise when a “city-killer” asteroid passed by — just one-fifth of the distance between Earth and Moon.109 In December 2019, a volcano unexpectedly erupted in New Zealand, killing twenty-one people.110 And in early 2020, governments around the world scrambled to cope with an unusually deadly flu-like virus that experts say may kill millions of people.111 Have governments sufficiently invested to detect and prevent asteroids, super-volcanoes, and deadly flus? Perhaps, or perhaps not. While nations take reasonable actions to detect and avoid such disasters they generally don’t take radical actions for the simple reason that doing so would make societies poorer and less capable of confronting all major challenges, including asteroids, super-volcanoes, and disease epidemics.

While nations take reasonable actions to detect and avoid such disasters they generally don’t take radical actions for the simple reason that doing so would make societies poorer and less capable of confronting all major challenges, including asteroids, super-volcanoes, and disease epidemics. “Richer countries are more resilient,” climate scientist Emanuel said, “so let’s focus on making people richer and more resilient.” The risk of triggering tipping points increases at higher planetary temperatures, and thus our goal should be to reduce emissions and keep temperatures as low as possible without undermining economic development. Said Emanuel, “We’ve got to come up with some kind of middle ground. We shouldn’t be forced to choose between growth and lifting people out of poverty and doing something for the climate.”112 The new good news is that carbon emissions have been declining in developed nations for more than a decade.


pages: 193 words: 51,445

On the Future: Prospects for Humanity by Martin J. Rees

23andMe, 3D printing, air freight, Alfred Russel Wallace, Asilomar, autonomous vehicles, Benoit Mandelbrot, blockchain, cryptocurrency, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, decarbonisation, demographic transition, distributed ledger, double helix, effective altruism, Elon Musk, en.wikipedia.org, global village, Hyperloop, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Internet of things, Jeff Bezos, job automation, Johannes Kepler, John Conway, life extension, mandelbrot fractal, mass immigration, megacity, nuclear winter, pattern recognition, quantitative hedge fund, Ray Kurzweil, Rodney Brooks, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, smart grid, speech recognition, Stanford marshmallow experiment, Stanislav Petrov, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Stuxnet, supervolcano, technological singularity, the scientific method, Tunguska event, uranium enrichment, Walter Mischel, Yogi Berra

But in our networked world, there would be nowhere to hide from the consequences of economic collapse, a pandemic, or a collapse in global food supplies. And there are other global threats; for instance, intense fires after a nuclear exchange could create a persistent ‘nuclear winter’—preventing, in worst-case scenarios, the growing of conventional crops for several years (as could also happen after an asteroid impact or a super-volcano eruption). In such a predicament it is collective intelligence that would be crucial. No single person fully understands the smartphone—a synthesis of several technologies. Indeed, if we were stranded after an ‘apocalypse’, as in extreme survival movies, even the basic technologies of the iron age and agriculture would be beyond almost all of us. That’s why, incidentally, James Lovelock—the polymath who introduced the Gaia hypothesis (the self-regulating planetary ecology)—has urged that ‘handbooks for survival’, codifying basic technology, should be prepared, widely dispersed, and securely stored.


pages: 482 words: 147,281

A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester

Albert Einstein, Asilomar, butterfly effect, California gold rush, Golden Gate Park, index card, indoor plumbing, lateral thinking, Loma Prieta earthquake, Menlo Park, place-making, risk tolerance, Silicon Valley, South of Market, San Francisco, supervolcano, The Chicago School, transcontinental railway, wage slave, Works Progress Administration

The park is a place of almost indescribable spectacle, rightly popular and in consequence frequently, especially in the high summer, more crowded than is good for it. The wildlife, the mountains, the lakes and the geysers are all the very obvious lures for the hundreds of thousands who each season drive in through the park’s main gates. And these days there is a new reason: the widely publicized knowledge that Yellowstone Park sits on top of a potential super-volcano, the eruption of which – at some unpredictable moment in the geological near term – will devastate nearly all of Western America. Most of Yellowstone is, in fact, the relic of a family of great volcanoes. There have been three periods of eruption, the first about two million years ago, the latest finishing around 600,000 years ago, with each spitting out, very violently, immeasurable quantities of lava and dust and ash.

D. 147 skyscrapers 28–9, 198 Slot 199, 217 Smith, Jedediah 93–4, 120 Socialist Voice 279 Society of Jesus 236–8 Sonoma Valley 228–9 Southern Pacific Company 290–91, 292, 293 space travel xvi–xix, xxi–xxii Spanish 9–10, 24, 74, 75, 90, 174–6 speaking in tongues 306–8 spreading zones 172 Spreckels, Claus 197, 198, 371 Spreckels, Rudolph 19 Standard Oil 21, 69 Stanford, Leland 103–4, 188, 198 Stanford University 105–6, 158, 235, 248, 250 Stegner, Wallace 118 Steinmann, Gustav 124 Sterling, George 320 Stevenson, Robert Louis 197, 320 Stewart, Nellie 211 Stiattesi Vertical Pendulum 235 Stillwater Intrusion 47 Stimson Beach 150 stock market 291 Stockton, Commodore Robert 23 Strauss, Levi 191 strike–slip faults 144 Students Astronomical Observatory, Berkeley 241 subduction 138–9, 141 Suess, Eduard 49–50, 124 suicides 292, 293 Sullivan, Dennis 199–200, 212, 254 Sullivan, Margaret 254 Sumatran Tsunami 6, 61, 66, 213, 273–4, 333, 338 magnitude 364–7, 365 Summerville, South Carolina 64–5, 68–9, 71, 84 Sun Yat-sen 195 Sunset 321, 322 supercontinents 49–50, 51, 52–5, 56, 57–60 super-volcanoes 348–51, 352 surface-waves 148 Surtsey 41–2, 45, 61 surveys 110–23 Sutro, Adolph 198 Sutter, John 94, 95, 96 Sweet Nell of Old Drury 211 Sydam, Mr 183 Taft, William 280 Taiwan 3–4 Tangrenbu see Chinatown tectonic plates 34–6, 37, 38–9, 71, 127–9 Tecumseh 75 Tejon Pass, California 162, 164–7 Telegraph Creek 141 telephones 258, 267 Temblor Range 160–61, 167 temperature 355 terrane 128 Tethys 49, 50 theatres 209–211, 283–4 Thingvellir 43, 44, 45 Thomas, Lewis xvii–xviii Three Years in California (Colton) 91, 92 Tiffany, Charles 115 Tigerlily (Merchant) 130 trans-Alaska oil pipeline 340, 345–6, 347 Transverse Range 162, 164, 167 Traumdeutung, Die (Freud) 27 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo 89–90 Trenton, Tennessee 79 triode 28 triple junctions 140–41 tsunamis 1, 6, 61, 339, 355 see also Sumatran Tsunami Tumaco, Colombia 2 Turner, Thomas 64–5 Twain, Mark 197 Two Years Before the Mast (Dana) 91, 178 Ukiah, California 241 ‘Ultramafics and Orogeny’ (Moores) 122–3 Ungava, Canada 84 United States Geological Survey (USGS) 116, 121, 141, 158, 160 1906 earthquake 251, 255–6, 261–2 earthquake forecast 331 Parkfield 132, 133 United States Mint 257, 281, 284 United States Post Office 281, 284–6 Ur 55, 57, 58, 59, 60, 62 Valparaiso 5 Van Dyke, W.


pages: 505 words: 147,916

Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made by Gaia Vince

3D printing, agricultural Revolution, bank run, car-free, carbon footprint, citizen journalism, clean water, congestion charging, crowdsourcing, decarbonisation, deindustrialization, energy security, failed state, Google Earth, Haber-Bosch Process, hive mind, informal economy, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Kickstarter, load shedding, M-Pesa, Mars Rover, Masdar, megacity, mobile money, off grid, oil shale / tar sands, out of africa, Peter Thiel, phenotype, planetary scale, Ray Kurzweil, Silicon Valley, Skype, smart cities, smart grid, smart meter, South China Sea, sovereign wealth fund, stem cell, supervolcano, sustainable-tourism

But if the surface is dark – like black rock, soil or ocean – then this energy is absorbed as heat, which radiates into the atmosphere as infrared rays that can’t pass through the carbon dioxide. In this way, heat gets trapped bouncing between the atmosphere and the Earth, warming them both and sustaining life. We know from fossil records that the planet’s climate has swung between tropical prolificacy that saw metre-long insects, and ice ages that killed off the majority of life forms. These catastrophic big freezes were the result of massive events like meteor hits or supervolcano eruptions that filled the atmosphere with so much dust that sunlight couldn’t penetrate to the planet and killed the animals that produce that all-important carbon dioxide. At such times, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere dropped as low as 160 parts per million (ppm) molecules. For the past half a million years – the world into which humans evolved – the carbon dioxide concentration has hovered between 200 ppm (during ice ages) and the comfortable 280 ppm of the Holocene.

While temperatures in the rest of Spain have climbed faster than the world average, meteorological observatories located in the plastic expanse have shown a decline of 0.3°C per decade.5 It turns out that the plastic acts like a mirror, reflecting sunlight back into the atmosphere before it can reach and heat up the ground. At a local level, the plastic greenhouses offset the global greenhouse effect. More controversially, filling the atmosphere with airborne particulates would also cool the Earth by shading it from sunlight. This happens naturally after a volcano erupts, such as Pinatubo in 1991, which lowered global temperatures by more than half a degree for two years after the event.6 In the deep past, supervolcano eruptions threw the planet into ice ages, causing mass extinctions. The same effect, albeit on a far lesser scale, can also be seen on shipping lanes because ships typically burn heavy fuels that issue smoky sulphurous emissions that seed measurably colder airstreams across the oceans. Sulphur particles – like the ones found in the Asian brown haze pollution – have a shading effect that reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface by as much as 15%, and are masking humanity’s warming by as much as 80%.


Global Catastrophic Risks by Nick Bostrom, Milan M. Cirkovic

affirmative action, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, American Society of Civil Engineers: Report Card, anthropic principle, artificial general intelligence, Asilomar, availability heuristic, Bill Joy: nanobots, Black Swan, carbon-based life, cognitive bias, complexity theory, computer age, coronavirus, corporate governance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, death of newspapers, demographic transition, Deng Xiaoping, distributed generation, Doomsday Clock, Drosophila, endogenous growth, Ernest Rutherford, failed state, feminist movement, framing effect, friendly AI, Georg Cantor, global pandemic, global village, Gödel, Escher, Bach, hindsight bias, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invention of agriculture, Kevin Kelly, Kuiper Belt, Law of Accelerating Returns, life extension, means of production, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Mikhail Gorbachev, millennium bug, mutually assured destruction, nuclear winter, P = NP, peak oil, phenotype, planetary scale, Ponzi scheme, prediction markets, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, reversible computing, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, scientific worldview, Singularitarianism, social intelligence, South China Sea, strong AI, superintelligent machines, supervolcano, technological singularity, technoutopianism, The Coming Technological Singularity, Tunguska event, twin studies, uranium enrichment, Vernor Vinge, War on Poverty, Westphalian system, Y2K

Peak forcing from the recent El Chichon ( 1 982) and Mt Pinatubo ( 1991) volcanoes was of the order of approximately 3Wm -2 . Though it is harder to infer the forcing from volcanoes that pre-date the satellite record, estimates suggest that volcanic forcing from Karakatau and Tambora in the nineteenth century are likely to have been larger. Even bigger are supervolcanoes, the most extreme class of volcanic events seen on Earth. Supervolcanoes eject over a 1000 km3 of material into the atmosphere (compared with around 25 km 3 for Pinatubo). They are highly uncommon, occurring less than once every 10,000 years, with some of the largest events being increasingly rare. Examples include the formation of the La Garita Caldera, possibly the largest eruption in history, which occurred some Climate change and global risk 271 2 8 million years ago, ejecting around 5000 km3 o f matter and, more recently, the Toba explosion, which occurred about 71,000 years ago and ejected around 2800 km3 of material into the atmosphere.

These considerations suggest that volcanic super-eruptions pose a real threat to civilization, and efforts to predict and mitigate volcanic climatic 216 Global catastropic risks disasters should be contemplated seriously (Rampino, 2002; Sparks et al., 2005) . Acknowledgement I thank S. Ambrose, S. Self, R. Stothers, and G. Zielinski for the information provided. Suggestions for further reading Bindeman, I.N. (2006). The Secrets of Supervolcanoes. Scientific American Magazine (June 2006). A well-written popular introduction in the rapidly expanding field of super-volcanism. Mason, B.G., Pyle, D.M., and Oppenheimer, C. (2004). The size and frequency of the largest explosive eruptions on Earth. Bull. Volcano!., 66, 735-748. The best modern treatment of statistics of potential globally catastrophic volcanic eruptions. It includes a comparison of impact and super-volcanism threats and concludes that super-eruptions present a significantly higher risk per unit energy yield.


Western USA by Lonely Planet

airport security, Albert Einstein, Apple II, Asilomar, back-to-the-land, Bay Area Rapid Transit, Burning Man, California gold rush, call centre, car-free, carbon footprint, Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Templeton: OpenTable:, Donner party, East Village, edge city, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Frank Gehry, global village, Golden Gate Park, Haight Ashbury, haute couture, haute cuisine, illegal immigration, intermodal, Joan Didion, Kickstarter, Loma Prieta earthquake, Mahatma Gandhi, Mars Rover, Maui Hawaii, off grid, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, South of Market, San Francisco, starchitect, stealth mode startup, stem cell, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, supervolcano, trade route, transcontinental railway, Upton Sinclair, urban planning, women in the workforce, Works Progress Administration, young professional, Zipcar

Geology Red rock deserts, petrified forests, blasting geysers and one massive rip in the ground. In many spots in the West, you might feel like you’ve stepped into a lab experiment of the gods – one that’s not quite done. Grand Canyon A 277-mile river cuts through two-billion-year-old rocks whose layered geologic secrets are revealed within a mile-high stack (Click here) Yellowstone Massive geysers, rainbow-colored thermal pools and a supervolcano base – this 3472-sq-mile national park puts on a dazzling show (Click here) Chiricahua National Monument A rugged wonderland of rock chiseled by rain and wind into pinnacles, bridges and balanced rocks (Click here) Sand Dunes The white and chalky gypsum dunes at White Sands National Monument are mesmerizing (Click here) Carlsbad Caverns Take a 2-mile walk along a subterranean passage to arrive in the great room – a veritable underground cathedral concealed in the massive cave system (Click here) Old West Sites The story of the taming of the West has always been America’s grandest tale, capturing the imagination of writers, singers, filmmakers and travelers.

DON’T MISS Don a Stetson and gallop the sagebrush wilderness of Wyoming or Montana. Fast Facts »Hub city: Denver (population 600,000) »Denver to Yellowstone National Park: 595 miles »Time zone: Mountain (two hours behind NYC) »States covered in this chapter: Colorado, Idaho, Montana & Wyoming Did You Know? Pitch your tent in Yellowstone National Park and you’ll be sleeping atop one of the world’s largest supervolcanoes. It’s active every 640,000 years: an eruption is due soon – give or take 10,000 years. Resources »Denver Post (www.denverpost.com) The region’s top newspaper »5280 (www.5280.com) Denver’s best monthly magazine »Discount Ski Rental (www.rentskis.com) At major resorts »14ers (www.14ers.com) Resource for hikers climbing the Rockies’ highest summits Rocky Mountains Highlights Spotting bears, bison and geysers at Yellowstone National Park (Click here) Reveling in Hollywood gone cowboy in Aspen (Click here) Hiking and climbing in Grand Teton National Park (Click here) Paddling top-notch whitewater at the Middle Fork of the Salmon River (Click here) Exploring the urban outdoor mecca of Boulder (Click here) Roaming the San Juan’s wild west towns in Southern Colorado (Click here) Enjoying untamed frozen splendor in Glacier National Park (Click here) Powder-skiing in the sunshine at Sun Valley (Click here) Taking a shot of culture in the wilderness of Missoula (Click here) History Before the late 18th century, when French trappers and Spaniards stepped in, the Rocky Mountain area was a land of many tribes, including the Nez Percé, the Shoshone, the Crow, the Lakota and the Ute.

Yellowstone National Park They grow their critters and geysers big up in Yellowstone, America’s first national park and Wyoming’s flagship attraction. From shaggy grizzlies to oversized bison and magnificent packs of wolves, this park boasts the lower 48’s most enigmatic concentration of wildlife. Throw in half the world’s geysers, the country’s largest high-altitude lake and a plethora of blue-ribbon rivers and waterfalls, all sitting pretty atop a giant supervolcano, and you’ll quickly realize you’ve stumbled across one of Mother Nature’s most fabulous creations. When John Colter became the first white man to visit the area in 1807, the only inhabitants were Tukadikas (aka Sheepeaters), a Shoshone Bannock people who hunted bighorn sheep. Colter’s reports of exploding geysers and boiling mud holes (at first laughingly dismissed as tall tales) brought in expeditions and tourism interest eagerly funded by the railroads.


Southwest USA Travel Guide by Lonely Planet

1919 Motor Transport Corps convoy, Albert Einstein, Berlin Wall, Burning Man, carbon footprint, Columbine, Donner party, El Camino Real, friendly fire, G4S, haute couture, haute cuisine, housing crisis, illegal immigration, immigration reform, indoor plumbing, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), low earth orbit, off grid, place-making, supervolcano, trade route, transcontinental railway, walkable city, Works Progress Administration, X Prize

Wildlife You’d be surprised how much wildlife you can see from the confines of your car – roadrunners, coyotes, elk, maybe a condor. But really, how much fun is that? As descendants of hunting nomads isn’t it in our genes to scan the horizon for signs of life? Bird-watching Southern Arizona is the place to be in April, May and September for migrating birds attracted to its riparian forests (Click here). Valles Caldera National Preserve Dormant crater of a super-volcano is now home to New Mexico’s largest elk herd (Click here). Gila National Forest Javelina, bear and trout live in this remote and rugged corner of New Mexico (Click here). California Condors This prehistoric bird, recently on the verge of extinction, is making a comeback near the Vermilion Cliffs (Click here) Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Education-minded wildlife repository spotlights desert denizens (Click here).

Tent Rocks For something surreal, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument (Click here) has a couple of short trails that meander through a geologic wonderland. The Cave Loop is 1.2 miles long; Veterans Memorial is a mile-long loop that’s wheelchair accessible; the Canyon Trail round-trip is about 3 miles. Located 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe. Valles Caldera A couple of remarkable trails circle small peaks in a massive basin that’s really the crater of an ancient supervolcano. Elevations are between 9000ft and 10,000ft. This one pushes the one-hour drive time right to the edge, and is much closer to Los Alamos. You must call Valles Caldera National Preserve (see Click here) in advance to reserve a hiking permit. Courses Santa Fe School of Cooking COOKING ( 505-983-4511; www.santafeschoolofcooking.com; Plaza Mercado) If you develop a love for New Mexican cuisine, try cooking lessons at this cooking school which specializes in Southwestern cuisine.

At the time of writing, Las Conchas Trail (between mile markers 36 & 37) was closed due to fire damage. It’s a lovely place to hike and there’s some great rock climbing along the path, so we hope it reopens soon (call 575-834-7235 for current conditions). A few miles further along, you’ll enter the Valles Caldera National Preserve (866-382-5537; www.vallescaldera.gov; permits adult/child $10/5), which is basically what the crater of a dormant supervolcano looks like 1,250,000 years after it first blows. (The explosion was so massive that chunks were thrown as far away as Kansas.) The 89,000-acre bowl – home to New Mexico’s largest elk herd – is simply breathtaking, with vast meadows from which hills rise like pine-covered islands. Though there are two trails on the edge of the preserve with free, open hiking, you should make reservations for the limited number of permits given out to hike within the caldera on any given day.


pages: 304 words: 87,702

The 100 Best Vacations to Enrich Your Life by Pam Grout

Albert Einstein, Buckminster Fuller, clean water, complexity theory, David Brooks, East Village, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, global village, Golden Gate Park, if you build it, they will come, Maui Hawaii, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Ralph Nader, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ronald Reagan, supervolcano, transcontinental railway, urban sprawl, Yogi Berra

The hundred or so yearly seminars are taught by the top experts in their field. “Wolves of the World,” for example, is taught by Dr. Doug Smith, the project leader for the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Restoration Project. “Mammal Tracking” is taught by Dr. Jim Halfpenny, a prominent tracker and author of a popular tracking field guide, and the “Yellowstone Volcano” class is led by the two scientists featured in the popular BBC docudrama Supervolcano. Although workshops are held throughout the park, the home base for a majority of the field seminars is the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, a comfortable field campus in the park’s northeast corner. Overlooking the Lamar Valley, a haven for elk, bison, mule deer, and bighorn sheep, the ranch was the site of the park’s bison recovery project in the early 20th century. “The ranch is right in the middle of one of the richest wildlife habitats in North America,” says Jeff Brown, director of education for the institute.


pages: 339 words: 94,769

Possible Minds: Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI by John Brockman

AI winter, airport security, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, artificial general intelligence, Asilomar, autonomous vehicles, basic income, Benoit Mandelbrot, Bill Joy: nanobots, Buckminster Fuller, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Danny Hillis, David Graeber, easy for humans, difficult for computers, Elon Musk, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, finite state, friendly AI, future of work, Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute, gig economy, income inequality, industrial robot, information retrieval, invention of writing, James Watt: steam engine, Johannes Kepler, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, Kickstarter, Laplace demon, Loebner Prize, market fundamentalism, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, Norbert Wiener, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, personalized medicine, Picturephone, profit maximization, profit motive, RAND corporation, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, self-driving car, sexual politics, Silicon Valley, Skype, social graph, speech recognition, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, superintelligent machines, supervolcano, technological singularity, technoutopianism, telemarketer, telerobotics, the scientific method, theory of mind, Turing machine, Turing test, universal basic income, Upton Sinclair, Von Neumann architecture, Whole Earth Catalog, Y2K, zero-sum game

To extrapolate current trends: What if we could make or grow almost anything and engineer any level of safety and efficacy desired? Any thinking being (made of any arrangement of atoms) could have access to any technology. Probably we should be less concerned about us-versus-them and more concerned about the rights of all sentients in the face of an emerging unprecedented diversity of minds. We should be harnessing this diversity to minimize global existential risks, like supervolcanoes and asteroids. But should we say “should”? (Disclaimer: In this and many other cases, when a technologist describes a societal path that “could,” “would,” or “should” happen, this doesn’t necessarily equate to the preferences of the author. It could reflect warning, uncertainty, and/or detached assessment.) Roboticist Gianmarco Veruggio and others have raised issues of roboethics since 2002; the U.K.


pages: 414 words: 105,153

Ringworld by Larry Niven

dark matter, gravity well, Mercator projection, supervolcano

Earth was two hundred light years away, the puppeteer fleet two light years distant, was receding at nearly lightspeed; and even the half-vaporized Liar had been invisible from the beginning of the flight. Now the meteoric gouge had faded from sight. How easy would it be to lose the ship entirely? Tanj near impossible, Louis decided. To antispinward was the largest mountain men had ever seen. There couldn’t be many such supervolcanos on the Ringworld. To find the Liar one would aim for the mountain, then troll spinward for a linear gouge several thousand miles long. ... But the arch of the Ringworld blazed overhead: three million times the surface area of the Earth. There was room to get quite thoroughly lost on the Ringworld. Nessus was beginning to stir. First one head, then the other emerged from beneath the puppeteer’s torso.


pages: 377 words: 97,144

Singularity Rising: Surviving and Thriving in a Smarter, Richer, and More Dangerous World by James D. Miller

23andMe, affirmative action, Albert Einstein, artificial general intelligence, Asperger Syndrome, barriers to entry, brain emulation, cloud computing, cognitive bias, correlation does not imply causation, crowdsourcing, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Brooks, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Deng Xiaoping, en.wikipedia.org, feminist movement, Flynn Effect, friendly AI, hive mind, impulse control, indoor plumbing, invention of agriculture, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, knowledge worker, Long Term Capital Management, low skilled workers, Netflix Prize, neurotypical, Norman Macrae, pattern recognition, Peter Thiel, phenotype, placebo effect, prisoner's dilemma, profit maximization, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, reversible computing, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Silicon Valley, Singularitarianism, Skype, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, supervolcano, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, transaction costs, Turing test, twin studies, Vernor Vinge, Von Neumann architecture

Since I’m trying to be more of a judge than an advocate with this book (except for a chunk of material in the next chapter), I now examine four categories of arguments against the likelihood of radical intelligence enhancements. 1.Civilization Collapses In my opinion, the most probable reason why mankind will never experience significant increases in machine or human intelligence is that our high-tech civilization won’t survive long enough for it to happen. That is, nuclear war, biological or nanotech weapons, or natural disasters such as super-volcanoes or asteroid strikes wipe out our species, or at least send us back to the Stone Age. One of the most powerful, but strangest, arguments that civilization will probably soon collapse comes from Robin Hanson’s application of what’s known as Fermi’s Paradox. To give you an intuitive grasp of the argument, I present the following story:330 One day you wake up with a strange kind of amnesia in which you have forgotten everyone’s age and lost the ability to determine people’s age from their appearance.


pages: 364 words: 101,193

Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas

accounting loophole / creative accounting, Climatic Research Unit, Deng Xiaoping, failed state, ice-free Arctic, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Live Aid, nuclear winter, oil shale / tar sands, peak oil, price stability, South China Sea, supervolcano

Further south, the agricultural heartland of states like Missouri and Iowa would have been freezing tundra, blasted by dust-laden winds sweeping down from the ice cap, and underlain by layers of solid permafrost. During the ice age, humans were displaced far to the south, where places that are now subtropical, like Florida and California, maintained a temperate climate. In addition, temperature swings were astonishingly rapid-several degrees in the space of a decade as the climate warmed and then cooled again. At one point, about 70,000 years ago, a huge supervolcano eruption in Indonesia blew thousands of cubic kilometres of dust and sulphur into the atmosphere, cutting off the Sun's heat and causing global temperatures to plummet. Humans were nearly wiped out in the ensuing ‘nuclear’ winter: the entire global human population crashed to somewhere between 15,000 and 40,000 individuals, a survival bottleneck which is still written in the genes of every human alive today.


Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McKibben

23andMe, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Airbnb, American Legislative Exchange Council, Anne Wojcicki, artificial general intelligence, Bernie Sanders, Bill Joy: nanobots, Burning Man, call centre, carbon footprint, Charles Lindbergh, clean water, Colonization of Mars, computer vision, David Attenborough, Donald Trump, double helix, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, ending welfare as we know it, energy transition, Flynn Effect, Google Earth, Hyperloop, impulse control, income inequality, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Jane Jacobs, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, job automation, life extension, light touch regulation, Mark Zuckerberg, mass immigration, megacity, Menlo Park, moral hazard, Naomi Klein, Nelson Mandela, obamacare, off grid, oil shale / tar sands, pattern recognition, Peter Thiel, plutocrats, Plutocrats, profit motive, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ray Kurzweil, Robert Mercer, Ronald Reagan, Sam Altman, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, smart meter, Snapchat, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Pinker, strong AI, supervolcano, technoutopianism, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, traffic fines, Travis Kalanick, urban sprawl, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y Combinator, Y2K, yield curve

In 2016, Microsoft had to shut down an AI chatbot it had named Tay after just a single day because Twitter users, who were supposed to make her smarter “through casual and playful conversation,” had instead turned her into a misogynistic racist. “Bush did 9/11, and Hitler would have done a better job than the monkey we have now,” Tay was soon happily tweeting. “Donald Trump is the only hope we’ve got.”36 Scientists have even theorized that AIs following their own impulses might explain why we haven’t found other civilizations out in space. Forget asteroids and supervolcanoes, says Bostrom—“even if they destroyed a significant number of civilizations we would expect some to get lucky and escape disaster.” But what if there is some technology “that (a) virtually all sufficiently advanced civilizations eventually discover and (b) its discovery leads almost universally to existential disaster”?37 That is to say, perhaps the reason we don’t hear from other civilizations is because interstellar space is dotted not with sentient life but with orbiting piles of paper clips.


pages: 372 words: 110,208

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich

23andMe, agricultural Revolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, European colonialism, Google Earth, invention of agriculture, invention of the wheel, invention of writing, mass immigration, meta analysis, meta-analysis, new economy, out of africa, phenotype, Scientific racism, supervolcano, the scientific method, transatlantic slave trade

This finding showed that they were members of pioneer modern human populations that initially flourished but whose descendants largely disappeared. The existence of these pioneer populations makes it clear that the past is not an inevitable march toward the present. Human history is full of dead ends, and we should not expect the people who lived in any one place in the past to be the direct ancestors of those who live there today. Around thirty-nine thousand years ago, a supervolcano near present-day Naples in Italy dropped an estimated three hundred cubic kilometers of ash across Europe, separating archaeological layers preceding it from those that succeeded it.21 Almost no Neanderthal remains or tools are found above this layer, suggesting that the climate disruption produced by the volcano, which could have produced multiyear winters, may have compounded competition with modern humans to create a crisis that drove Neanderthals to extinction.


pages: 424 words: 108,768

Origins: How Earth's History Shaped Human History by Lewis Dartnell

agricultural Revolution, back-to-the-land, bioinformatics, clean water, Columbian Exchange, decarbonisation, discovery of the americas, Donald Trump, Eratosthenes, financial innovation, Google Earth, Khyber Pass, Malacca Straits, megacity, meta analysis, meta-analysis, oil shale / tar sands, out of africa, Pax Mongolica, peak oil, phenotype, Rosa Parks, Silicon Valley, South China Sea, spice trade, supervolcano, trade route, transatlantic slave trade

Like the northern rim of the Mediterranean, the margins of this region are volcanically active, as the Indo-Australian and Pacific plates are being subducted under the Eurasian to melt and release rising blobs of magma. A whole chain of volcanoes runs along the backbone of Sumatra and Java, and curves all the way round to the Banda Islands. This volcanism has produced fertile soils, but also some of the most violent eruptions in history, such as Tambora in 1815 and Krakatoa in 1883. The eruption of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia around 74,000 years ago was the largest of the past two million years. It ejected an enormous amount of ash that smothered 1 per cent of the planet’s surface and may have darkened the skies sufficiently to cause a global chilling for several decades. (This has even prompted the controversial claim that the Toba eruption caused a crash in the surviving population of humanity.)29 Whereas the Mediterranean sports a few hundred islands, South East Asia contains over 26,000, ranging from thousand-kilometre-long landmasses like Borneo and Sumatra to minute specks of calderas.


pages: 481 words: 125,946

What to Think About Machines That Think: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Age of Machine Intelligence by John Brockman

agricultural Revolution, AI winter, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, algorithmic trading, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, basic income, bitcoin, blockchain, clean water, cognitive dissonance, Colonization of Mars, complexity theory, computer age, computer vision, constrained optimization, corporate personhood, cosmological principle, cryptocurrency, cuban missile crisis, Danny Hillis, dark matter, discrete time, Douglas Engelbart, Elon Musk, Emanuel Derman, endowment effect, epigenetics, Ernest Rutherford, experimental economics, Flash crash, friendly AI, functional fixedness, global pandemic, Google Glasses, hive mind, income inequality, information trail, Internet of things, invention of writing, iterative process, Jaron Lanier, job automation, Johannes Kepler, John Markoff, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, loose coupling, microbiome, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, natural language processing, Network effects, Norbert Wiener, pattern recognition, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, planetary scale, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Republic of Letters, RFID, Richard Thaler, Rory Sutherland, Satyajit Das, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Skype, smart contracts, social intelligence, speech recognition, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, Stuxnet, superintelligent machines, supervolcano, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, Turing machine, Turing test, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y2K

To deal with the evolving strategies of viruses and bacteria, wash your hands, avoid sneezes, get a flu shot. Occasionally, as with Ebola, further measures are required. But once again, prudence, not alarm, is effective. The evolution of natural intelligences can be a source of awe and inspiration if we embrace it with prudence rather than spurn it with alarm. All species go extinct. Homo sapiens will be no exception. We don’t know how it will happen—a virus, an alien invasion, nuclear war, a supervolcano, an asteroid, a red-giant sun. Yes, it could be AIs, but I would bet long odds against it. I would bet, instead, that AIs will be a source of awe, insight, inspiration, and yes, profit, for years to come. MACHINES THAT THINK ARE IN THE MOVIES ROGER SCHANK Psychologist and computer scientist, Engines for Education, Inc.; author, Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science Can Save Our Schools Machines cannot think.


pages: 424 words: 119,679

It's Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear by Gregg Easterbrook

affirmative action, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, air freight, autonomous vehicles, basic income, Bernie Madoff, Bernie Sanders, Branko Milanovic, business cycle, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, clean water, coronavirus, David Brooks, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, deindustrialization, Dissolution of the Soviet Union, Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Exxon Valdez, factory automation, failed state, full employment, Gini coefficient, Google Earth, Home mortgage interest deduction, hydraulic fracturing, Hyperloop, illegal immigration, impulse control, income inequality, Indoor air pollution, interchangeable parts, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invisible hand, James Watt: steam engine, labor-force participation, liberal capitalism, longitudinal study, Lyft, mandatory minimum, manufacturing employment, Mikhail Gorbachev, minimum wage unemployment, obamacare, oil shale / tar sands, Paul Samuelson, peak oil, plutocrats, Plutocrats, Ponzi scheme, post scarcity, purchasing power parity, quantitative easing, reserve currency, rising living standards, Robert Gordon, Ronald Reagan, self-driving car, short selling, Silicon Valley, Simon Kuznets, Slavoj Žižek, South China Sea, Steve Wozniak, Steven Pinker, supervolcano, The Chicago School, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, the scientific method, There's no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home - Ken Olsen, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, transaction costs, uber lyft, universal basic income, War on Poverty, Washington Consensus, WikiLeaks, working poor, Works Progress Administration

Early in the atomic era, radioactive fallout from the bomb seemed an existential threat to civilization—smoke in the stratosphere might be as bad. The trouble is that it’s not clear what can be done to prevent nations from losing their collective minds and using nuclear munitions—other than continue the ongoing global project of making humanity understand that war has become counterproductive. Volcanoes pose a natural threat that could manifest at any time. The most recent supervolcano explosion, Mount Tambora in Indonesia—a far more powerful blast than Mount Saint Helens—happened in 1815 and caused failed harvests around the world. Terry Ann Plank, a magma specialist at Columbia University, warned in 2016 that an explosion of the volcanic formation beneath Yellowstone Park “will disrupt life as we know it on the planet.” Some questions do not have answers: nothing can be done to prevent a volcano explosion, little can be done to prepare.


pages: 489 words: 136,195

Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane

Albert Einstein, anti-communist, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, demand response, Google Earth, megacity, Minecraft, oil rush, out of africa, planetary scale, precariat, sovereign wealth fund, supervolcano, the built environment, The Spirit Level, uranium enrichment

The most dangerous waste, though – the toxic and radioactive spent fuel rods from reactors – requires even more secure burial: a special funeral and a special tomb. We have only ever attempted to construct a few such high-level waste repositories. Belgium has sunk a test site to research future deep repository possibilities, and has named the facility HADES. America’s attempt at a high-level repository took place at an extinct super-volcano called Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert, but construction was suspended after decades of controversy and protest, and the caverns tunnelled into the ignimbrite currently stand as empty halls. Among the reasons for the suspension of the project is Yucca Mountain’s proximity to a 900-foot-wide earthquake zone, the Sundance Fault, which is itself undercrossed by a deeper fault called Ghost Dance.


pages: 462 words: 150,129

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley

"Robert Solow", 23andMe, agricultural Revolution, air freight, back-to-the-land, banking crisis, barriers to entry, Bernie Madoff, British Empire, call centre, carbon footprint, Cesare Marchetti: Marchetti’s constant, charter city, clean water, cloud computing, cognitive dissonance, collateralized debt obligation, colonial exploitation, colonial rule, Corn Laws, creative destruction, credit crunch, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, decarbonisation, dematerialisation, demographic dividend, demographic transition, double entry bookkeeping, Edward Glaeser, en.wikipedia.org, everywhere but in the productivity statistics, falling living standards, feminist movement, financial innovation, Flynn Effect, food miles, Gordon Gekko, greed is good, Hans Rosling, happiness index / gross national happiness, haute cuisine, hedonic treadmill, Hernando de Soto, income inequality, income per capita, Indoor air pollution, informal economy, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invention of agriculture, invisible hand, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, John Nash: game theory, joint-stock limited liability company, Joseph Schumpeter, Kevin Kelly, Kickstarter, knowledge worker, Kula ring, Mark Zuckerberg, meta analysis, meta-analysis, mutually assured destruction, Naomi Klein, Northern Rock, nuclear winter, oil shale / tar sands, out of africa, packet switching, patent troll, Pax Mongolica, Peter Thiel, phenotype, plutocrats, Plutocrats, Ponzi scheme, Productivity paradox, profit motive, purchasing power parity, race to the bottom, Ray Kurzweil, rent-seeking, rising living standards, Silicon Valley, spice trade, spinning jenny, stem cell, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, supervolcano, technological singularity, Thales and the olive presses, Thales of Miletus, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen, trade route, transaction costs, ultimatum game, upwardly mobile, urban sprawl, Vernor Vinge, Vilfredo Pareto, wage slave, working poor, working-age population, Y2K, Yogi Berra, zero-sum game

The annual risk of collision with a very large asteroid, such as wiped out the dinosaurs, is put at about one in 100 billion. Given that such an event would greatly reduce human prosperity, it seems to be rather cheap of humankind to be spending as little as $4m a year to track such asteroids. Why are we not spending large sums stockpiling food caches in cities so that people can survive the risks from North Korean missiles, rogue robots, alien invaders, nuclear war, pandemics, super-volcanoes? Each risk may be very unlikely, but with the potential harm so very great, almost infinite resources deserve to be spent on them, and almost nothing on present causes of distress, under Weitzman’s argument. In short, the extreme climate outcomes are so unlikely, and depend on such wild assumptions, that they do not dent my optimism one jot. If there is a 99 per cent chance that the world’s poor can grow much richer for a century while still emitting carbon dioxide, then who am I to deny them that chance?


pages: 522 words: 150,592

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms & a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester

British Empire, cable laying ship, Charles Lindbergh, colonial rule, friendly fire, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), intermodal, Isaac Newton, Louis Blériot, Malcom McLean invented shipping containers, Nelson Mandela, North Sea oil, Piper Alpha, polynesian navigation, supervolcano, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, transcontinental railway, undersea cable

In all other respects the frigid waters off the North Atlantic islands and the steaming acid waters of our early and territorially undifferentiated planet of long ago were more or less the same. Territorially undifferentiated though that early planet may have been, it would not remain so for long. Solid, habitable earth was being manufactured in the cooling planet at about the same time, too. At first this land was represented by little more than the appearance of countless huge supervolcanoes, each separated from the other so that their clusterings might have looked from the air like the chimneys of a planet-sized industrial complex, giant marine mountains that belched out choking clouds of smoke and spewed thousand-mile-long puddles of thick black lava. Eventually these isolated volcanoes managed to vomit out so much new rock that they started to coalesce, and some of these coagulating masses became more or less stable, such that they could be thought of in aggregate as landmasses.


pages: 513 words: 152,381

The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity by Toby Ord

3D printing, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, artificial general intelligence, Asilomar, Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA, availability heuristic, Columbian Exchange, computer vision, cosmological constant, cuban missile crisis, decarbonisation, defense in depth, delayed gratification, demographic transition, Doomsday Clock, Drosophila, effective altruism, Elon Musk, Ernest Rutherford, global pandemic, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Mark Zuckerberg, mass immigration, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Mikhail Gorbachev, mutually assured destruction, Nash equilibrium, Norbert Wiener, nuclear winter, p-value, Peter Singer: altruism, planetary scale, race to the bottom, RAND corporation, Ronald Reagan, self-driving car, Stanislav Petrov, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, supervolcano, survivorship bias, the scientific method, uranium enrichment

The magnitude scale is generally preferred by scientists, due to practical problems estimating eruption volumes, and the usefulness of a continuous scale in analyzing relationships between magnitude and other parameters. All VEI 8 eruptions with a deposit density of greater than around 1,000 kg/m3 (most of them) will have magnitudes of 8 or more. There is no sharp line between supervolcanic eruptions and regular eruptions. Supervolcanic eruptions are those with VEI 8—ejecta volume greater than 1,000 km3. It is not clear whether flood basalts should count as supervolcanoes, and they have generally been considered separately. See Mason, Pyle & Oppenheimer (2004) for a discussion of the scales. 28 Not all calderas are the result of supereruptions, however. For example, Kilauea in Hawaii has a caldera that was produced by lava flows, rather than from an explosive eruption. 29 This was its last supervolcanic eruption. It had a lesser eruption 176,000 years ago (Crosweller et al., 2012). 30 There is significant uncertainty about the magnitude of global cooling, with estimates ranging from 0.8°C to 18°C.


pages: 574 words: 164,509

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom

agricultural Revolution, AI winter, Albert Einstein, algorithmic trading, anthropic principle, anti-communist, artificial general intelligence, autonomous vehicles, barriers to entry, Bayesian statistics, bioinformatics, brain emulation, cloud computing, combinatorial explosion, computer vision, cosmological constant, dark matter, DARPA: Urban Challenge, data acquisition, delayed gratification, demographic transition, different worldview, Donald Knuth, Douglas Hofstadter, Drosophila, Elon Musk, en.wikipedia.org, endogenous growth, epigenetics, fear of failure, Flash crash, Flynn Effect, friendly AI, Gödel, Escher, Bach, income inequality, industrial robot, informal economy, information retrieval, interchangeable parts, iterative process, job automation, John Markoff, John von Neumann, knowledge worker, longitudinal study, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, mutually assured destruction, Nash equilibrium, Netflix Prize, new economy, Norbert Wiener, NP-complete, nuclear winter, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, performance metric, phenotype, prediction markets, price stability, principal–agent problem, race to the bottom, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, reversible computing, social graph, speech recognition, Stanislav Petrov, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, strong AI, superintelligent machines, supervolcano, technological singularity, technoutopianism, The Coming Technological Singularity, The Nature of the Firm, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, transaction costs, Turing machine, Vernor Vinge, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, World Values Survey, zero-sum game

A policy could thus be evaluated on the basis of how much of a differential advantage it gives to desired forms of technological development over undesired forms.3 Preferred order of arrival Some technologies have an ambivalent effect on existential risks, increasing some existential risks while decreasing others. Superintelligence is one such technology. We have seen in earlier chapters that the introduction of machine superintelligence would create a substantial existential risk. But it would reduce many other existential risks. Risks from nature—such as asteroid impacts, supervolcanoes, and natural pandemics—would be virtually eliminated, since superintelligence could deploy countermeasures against most such hazards, or at least demote them to the non-existential category (for instance, via space colonization). These existential risks from nature are comparatively small over the relevant timescales. But superintelligence would also eliminate or reduce many anthropogenic risks.


pages: 551 words: 174,280

The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch

agricultural Revolution, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, artificial general intelligence, Bonfire of the Vanities, conceptual framework, cosmological principle, dark matter, David Attenborough, discovery of DNA, Douglas Hofstadter, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, first-past-the-post, Georg Cantor, global pandemic, Gödel, Escher, Bach, illegal immigration, invention of movable type, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, Johannes Kepler, John Conway, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Kenneth Arrow, Loebner Prize, Louis Pasteur, pattern recognition, Pierre-Simon Laplace, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Stephen Hawking, supervolcano, technological singularity, Thales of Miletus, The Coming Technological Singularity, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Review, William of Occam, zero-sum game

And the next such object to strike us is already out there at this moment, speeding towards us with nothing to stop it except human knowledge. Civilization is vulnerable to several other known types of disaster with similar levels of risk. For instance, ice ages occur more frequently than that, and ‘mini ice ages’ much more frequently – and some climatologists believe that they can happen with only a few years’ warning. A ‘super-volcano’ such as the one lurking under Yellowstone National Park could blot out the sun for years at a time. If it happened tomorrow our species could survive, by growing food using artificial light, and civilization could recover. But many would die, and the suffering would be so tremendous that such events should merit almost as much preventative effort as an extinction. We do not know the probability of a spontaneously occurring incurable plague, but we may guess that it is unacceptably high, since pandemics such as the Black Death in the fourteenth century have already shown us the sort of thing that can happen on a timescale of centuries.


USA Travel Guide by Lonely, Planet

1960s counterculture, active transport: walking or cycling, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Albert Einstein, Asilomar, Bay Area Rapid Transit, Berlin Wall, Big bang: deregulation of the City of London, big-box store, bike sharing scheme, Bretton Woods, British Empire, Burning Man, California gold rush, call centre, car-free, carbon footprint, centre right, Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Templeton: OpenTable:, cuban missile crisis, desegregation, Donald Trump, Donner party, East Village, edge city, El Camino Real, Fall of the Berlin Wall, feminist movement, Frank Gehry, glass ceiling, global village, Golden Gate Park, Guggenheim Bilbao, Haight Ashbury, haute couture, haute cuisine, Hernando de Soto, Howard Zinn, illegal immigration, immigration reform, information trail, interchangeable parts, intermodal, jitney, Kickstarter, license plate recognition, Mars Rover, Mason jar, mass immigration, Maui Hawaii, McMansion, Menlo Park, Monroe Doctrine, new economy, New Urbanism, obamacare, off grid, Ralph Nader, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RFID, ride hailing / ride sharing, Ronald Reagan, Rosa Parks, Saturday Night Live, Silicon Valley, South of Market, San Francisco, starchitect, stealth mode startup, stem cell, supervolcano, the built environment, The Chicago School, the High Line, the payments system, trade route, transcontinental railway, union organizing, Upton Sinclair, upwardly mobile, urban decay, urban planning, urban renewal, urban sprawl, walkable city, white flight, working poor, Works Progress Administration, young professional, Zipcar

With red rock deserts, petrified forests, blasting geysers and one massive hole in the ground, you might feel like you’ve stepped onto another planet. Grand Canyon Needing little introduction, the Grand Canyon is mesmerizing. It’s a mile deep and 10 miles across and was carved over 6 million years. Take your time when you go (Click here). Yellowstone Massive geysers, rainbow-colored thermal pools and the supervolcano it all sits on – this 3472-sq-mile national park certainly puts on a dazzling show (Click here). Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park Home to two active volcanoes, this park is the place to go for a look at lava deserts, smoldering craters and, with luck, the sight of molten lava rolling into the ocean (Click here). Carlsbad Caverns Take a two-mile walk along a subterranean passage to arrive in the great room – a veritable underground cathedral concealed in this massive cave system (Click here).

DON’T MISS Don a Stetson and gallop the sagebrush wilderness of Wyoming or Montana. Fast Facts » Hub city: Denver (population 600,000) » Denver to Yellowstone National Park: 595 miles » Time zone: Mountain (two hours behind NYC) » States covered in this chapter: Colorado, Idaho, Montana & Wyoming Did You Know? Pitch your tent in Yellowstone National Park and you’ll be sleeping atop one of the world’s largest supervolcanoes. It’s active every 640,000 years: an eruption is due soon – give or take 10,000 years. Resources » Denver Post (www.denverpost.com) The region’s top newspaper » 5280 (www.5280.com) Denver’s best monthly magazine » Discount Ski Rental (www.rentskis.com) At major resorts » 14ers (www.14ers.com) Resource for hikers climbing the Rockies’ highest summits Rocky Mountains Highlights Spotting bears, bison and geysers at Yellowstone National Park (Click here) Reveling in Hollywood gone cowboy in Aspen (Click here) Hiking and climbing in Grand Teton National Park (Click here) Paddling top-notch whitewater at the Middle Fork of the Salmon River (Click here) Exploring the urban outdoor mecca of Boulder (Click here) Roaming the San Juan’s wild west towns in Southern Colorado (Click here) Enjoying untamed frozen splendor in Glacier National Park (Click here) Powder-skiing in the sunshine at Sun Valley (Click here) Taking a shot of culture in the wilderness of Missoula (Click here) History Before the late 18th century, when French trappers and Spaniards stepped in, the Rocky Mountain area was a land of many tribes, including the Nez Percé, the Shoshone, the Crow, the Lakota and the Ute.

Yellowstone National Park They grow their critters and geysers big up in Yellowstone, America’s first national park and Wyoming’s flagship attraction. From shaggy grizzlies to oversized bison and magnificent packs of wolves, this park boasts the lower 48’s most enigmatic concentration of wildlife. Throw in half the world’s geysers, the country’s largest high-altitude lake and a plethora of blue-ribbon rivers and waterfalls, all sitting pretty atop a giant supervolcano, and you’ll quickly realize you’ve stumbled across one of Mother Nature’s most fabulous creations. When John Colter became the first white man to visit the area in 1807, the only inhabitants were Tukadikas (aka Sheepeaters), a Shoshone Bannock people who hunted bighorn sheep. Colter’s reports of exploding geysers and boiling mud holes (at first laughingly dismissed as tall tales) brought in expeditions and tourism interest eagerly funded by the railroads.


France (Lonely Planet, 8th Edition) by Nicola Williams

active transport: walking or cycling, back-to-the-land, bike sharing scheme, British Empire, car-free, carbon footprint, centre right, Charles Lindbergh, Columbine, double helix, Guggenheim Bilbao, haute couture, haute cuisine, Henri Poincaré, Honoré de Balzac, illegal immigration, industrial robot, information trail, Jacquard loom, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Kickstarter, Louis Blériot, Louis Pasteur, low cost airline, low cost carrier, Mahatma Gandhi, means of production, Murano, Venice glass, pension reform, post-work, QWERTY keyboard, ride hailing / ride sharing, Saturday Night Live, Silicon Valley, Skype, Sloane Ranger, supervolcano, trade route, urban renewal, urban sprawl, V2 rocket

Return to beginning of chapter PARC NATUREL RÉGIONAL DES VOLCANS D’AUVERGNE A vast tract of cloud-shrouded peaks, snowy uplands and jade-green valleys, the huge Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne ( 04 73 65 64 00; www.parc-volcans-auvergne.com) occupies most of the western Massif Central, stretching for around 3950 sq km and 120km from base to tip. Its northerly area extends from the chain of extinct volcanoes known as the Chaîne des Puys and Monts Dômes, centring on the high point of Puy de Dôme (below). Further south are the Monts Dore and the snowy Puy de Sancy, a popular ski station and the Massif Central’s highest point. The park’s southern edge is marked by the wild, rugged Monts du Cantal, formed by an ancient supervolcano worn down over the millennia, and dominated by the lofty summit of the Plomb du Cantal (1855m). * * * FIERY FURNACES With its peaceful pastures and verdant hills, it’s hard to believe that the Massif Central was once one of the most active volcanic areas in Western Europe. The area consists of three geological bands. The Chaîne des Puys and Monts Dômes, a chain of extinct volcanoes and cinder cones stretching in a 40km north–south line across the northern Massif Central, thrust up around 100,000 years ago.

* * * Return to beginning of chapter MURAT pop 2300 / elevation 930m Tumbling down a steep basalt crag topped by a statue of the Virgin Mary, Murat is an excellent base for exploring the Monts du Cantal. With a cluster of dark stone houses huddled beneath the Rocher Bonnevie, it’s one of the prettiest towns in the Cantal and a popular hiking centre. To the west are the three lofty peaks of Puy Mary (1787m), Plomb du Cantal (1855m) and Puy de Perse-Arse (1686m), the last remnants of an exploded supervolcano that once covered the Cantal Massif. Information The tourist office ( 04 71 20 09 47; www.officedetourismepaysdemurat.com; 2 rue du Faubourg Notre-Dame; 9am-12.30pm & 1.30-7pm Mon-Sat, 9.30am-12.30pm & 2.30-6.30pm Sun Jul & Aug, 9am-noon & 2-6pm Mon-Sat & 10am-noon Sun Sep-Jun) is near the town hall, and has lots of info on walks and activities in the Cantal area. Sights & Activities Murat’s fine old town, with its twisting streets and wonky stone cottages, makes a lovely afternoon stroll.


pages: 1,028 words: 267,392

Wanderers: A Novel by Chuck Wendig

Black Swan, centre right, citizen journalism, clean water, Columbine, coronavirus, currency manipulation / currency intervention, game design, global pandemic, hiring and firing, hive mind, Internet of things, job automation, Kickstarter, Lyft, Maui Hawaii, oil shale / tar sands, private military company, RFID, side project, Silicon Valley, Skype, supervolcano, uber lyft, white picket fence

Sadie had asked. “A comet—” A comet passing overhead, he thought. Wormwood. He knew his Book of Revelation. He knew that the preachers and far-right cultists were speaking in those terms even now. It was absurd; the comet didn’t do this. Just the same, the coincidence kinked his bowels and turned his blood to ice water. He demanded Sadie stop. “Or a nuclear blast,” she continued. “A meteor, a super-volcano, or even some kind of pandemic—” “Stop!” It was then that he had to go. He threw open the shuttered door of the unit, staggering out across the parking lot—and by the time he reached the car, he was already bent over, his body trying to puke as if it could somehow purge what he had just learned. Now Arav was here, standing with him. Looking just as haunted. Maybe worse. Sadie followed them out.


pages: 945 words: 292,893

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

clean water, Colonization of Mars, Danny Hillis, digital map, double helix, epigenetics, fault tolerance, Fellow of the Royal Society, Filipino sailors, gravity well, Isaac Newton, Jeff Bezos, kremlinology, Kuiper Belt, low earth orbit, microbiome, orbital mechanics / astrodynamics, phenotype, Potemkin village, pre–internet, random walk, remote working, selection bias, side project, Silicon Valley, Skype, statistical model, Stewart Brand, supervolcano, the scientific method, Tunguska event, zero day, éminence grise

The ground, where they could see it through smoke and steam, was a mottled terrain of dully glowing lava: some of it the hot impact craters of recent big meteorites, some of it spewing up out of the Earth’s fractured crust. Oceans were dark at night, hazed with steam in daylight, their coasts difficult to make out, but clearly shallower than they had been. Florida was reaching out toward the Keys but being battered down and chipped away by bolides, and washed away by tsunamis, even as it did so. A year and a half ago, a big rock had torn the lid off the long-dormant Yellowstone supervolcano. That had been cloaking most of North America with ash ever since then; glimmers of yellow light in the northern extreme of their view hinted at a vast outpouring of magma. A long-suppressed habit told Dinah, absurdly, that she should go and turn on her radio in case Rufus was transmitting. This made the tears come, and that in turn made Ivy’s tears come, and so they spent the last half of the intermission, from perigee onward, gazing at Earth through water.


Lonely Planet France by Lonely Planet Publications

banking crisis, bike sharing scheme, British Empire, car-free, carbon footprint, centre right, Charles Lindbergh, Columbine, double helix, Frank Gehry, G4S, glass ceiling, haute couture, haute cuisine, Henri Poincaré, Honoré de Balzac, illegal immigration, Jacquard loom, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Kickstarter, Louis Blériot, Louis Pasteur, low cost airline, low cost carrier, Mahatma Gandhi, mass immigration, Murano, Venice glass, ride hailing / ride sharing, sensible shoes, Silicon Valley, supervolcano, trade route, urban renewal, urban sprawl, V2 rocket

With a cluster of dark stone houses huddled beneath the Rocher Bonnevie, it’s one of the prettiest towns in the region and is a popular hiking and skiing hub. Sights & Activities The twisting streets and wonky stone cottages of Murat’s old town make an enjoyable afternoon stroll. To the west are the lofty peaks of Puy Mary (1787m), Plomb du Cantal (1858m) and Puy de Peyre Arse (1806m), the last remnants of an exploded supervolcano that once covered the Cantal Massif. Maison de la Faune MUSEUM (www.murat.fr; adult/child €4.70/3.10; 10am-noon & 2-6pm Mon-Sat, 2-6pm Sun) Budding entomologists should make a beeline for this spiralling stone tower (opposite place de l’Hôtel de Ville), which houses more than 10,000 insects, butterflies and stuffed beasties from the Auvergne to the Amazon. Rocher Bonnevie WALKING For great views, brave the lung-busting climb to the top of Rocher Bonnevie.