Let's Play Predict the Future: How Will the World End?

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | September 10, 2010 10:11 am

Morgan speaks a sad truth
Yes, we’re all going to die.
But let’s make a guessing game out of it!

30 years ago this October, a handful of dedicated science enthusiasts got together and started a crazy little experiment called DISCOVER. Taking stock on the occasion of our three-decade anniversary, we’re happy to find that we’re still going strong–yet we’re also filled with existential dread.

The special 30th anniversary issue of DISCOVER includes a chilling piece from editor-in-chief Corey Powell, “30 Ways the World Could End.” His gloom-and-doom assessment of our future include such scenarios as superbombs, space colony uprisings, and genetically superior “transhumans” who out-compete us lame, pre-enhancement humans.

But we suspect we’ll get a richer response to this big question by crowd-sourcing responses from our favorite future predictors here at SNF. So tell us: Which of Corey’s suggested calamities is the most likely, and when will we be Armageddoned? Which obvious apocalypse did he miss?


Comments (16)

  1. lol Just like anyone who turns thirty, thoughts get morbid and the fun stops.

  2. Praedor

    Anything that could happen in theory but hasn’t, wont. So rule out those types of disaster. There has been 3.5+/- billion years for such to occur while life has existed on earth, yet nothing but some earlier catastrophic meteorite strikes and volcanism.

    A singularity? Bah. Computers are monstrously unreliable at the best of times and people like Kurzweil want to “upload” to one without any evidence that one’s mind is even uploadable…or that it would do you any good if you COULD do this: your physical/biological body with its mind would still remain and be shaking its fist at the universe as your “uploaded” copy goes off to galavant about the universe. “What about ME!? I’m still stuck here and my back hurts, I have no girlfriend, and my IRA is worthless!” You can at least take some comfort in the fact that your uploaded computer geek self (to the billionth power a computer geek!) certainly isn’t getting any dates with the chicks. Chicks DON’T dig x86_64 CPUs, no matter how many parallel processors there are, they DON’T give a fig about how much RAM you sport, and your uber hot (literally) 750MW power supply ain’t getting you any cool points with the ladies.

    The most likely “doomsday” is either self-annihilation via the same old violent means(terrorist WILL get the bomb eventually…or bioweapons) or via absolute stoopid: environmental degredation to the point of the earth no longer being able to support human civilization. Not doing a ANYTHING real to deal with climate change virtually assures this latter…in many of our own lifetimes but certainly within the lifetimes of your children. Nice job that, but at least ya’ll took us down with your SUV and coal-fired cheap electricity and all the electronic gadgets that are thus powered intact. That makes up for the coming misery and civilization collapse!

  3. paul

    Instead of grey goo, how about grey grit? Just because you can put rudimentary intelligence inside faucets, windshield wipers, light bulbs, and every other mundane object in the world doesn’t mean you should. And when some interesting bug or worm takes out 50% of them at once, bringing the world back up becomes an interesting exercise. (Little known fact: most modern powerplants have a least one dead-simple diesel generator on the back lot, because you can’t turn on the main generators without plenty of electric power.)

    Of course, tiny enclaves of humanity will probably survive almost any of these cataclysms. Maybe the aliens or the transhumans or the machines will keep them around as a quaint reminder.

  4. Carrie

    I’m with Praedor. Absolute stoopid corrupts absolutely.

  5. James F Milne

    We have changed our environment to something incompatible with our Neolithic emotions( popensity for killing and uncontroled reproduction) Darwinian philosophy tells us that species that do not adapt to their environment become extinct. Technolgy grows on an exponential and so does the probability of disaster.

  6. Matt

    I was a little surprised that the article only touched on a very likely outcome–good old-fashioned evolution. Indeed, #29 suggests that we may in our own foolishness create supermutants, but I find more interesting the thought that nature might lead to a similar conclusion. It’s not like history would not be on the side of nature on the evolution question, as Lucy, the “Hobbit,” and perhaps other predecessors would confirm, the more interesting question might we as homo sapiens how and to what extent we as homo sapiens may contribute DNA to our eventual successor. At least in this transition, whenever it occurs, there likely will be good documentation of our decline and ultimate demise. We’ll make good fodder for speculation as to why the human experiment ultimately failed at a genetic level.

  7. Robert Crow

    I fear world leadership will not learn about and appropriately use the principles of behavior science to save the earth from degradation by human behaviors that destroy land and water and oceans. I expect life on Earth will be largely destroyed by a collapse of food and water due to excessive human demand. Essentially, the human population will increase and accumulate at accelerating rates until not enough food can be grown on land and the oceans are depleted. Water will be very scarce, expensive and fought-over. Progressively, the land will be deforested, animals will die, then all edible plants will be consumed by the strongest humans until, eventually, most humankind will parish. Remanent human populations will eke out meager existences. If few enough humans survive so animal and plant life can be revived, then some plant life and animals will recover until humans, having not learned how to control destructive and encourage adaptive behaviors, will again over-populate and cause another collapse.

  8. Robert Crow

    My hope for the future is that leadership and citizens in general will learn enough about the natural laws determining behavior so they can apply these principles to encourage adaptive behaviors and reduce or eliminate destructive behaviors. By being equipped with procedures validated by the science of behavior we could replace present practices, largely based on constructs, with effective practices. Among the results of constructive reinforcement contingencies will be populations maintained at levels conducive to continuation of plant and animal life and healthy oceans. Wide spread use of positive motivational methods will increase successes and quality of life. For example, failed education practices will be replaced by effective teaching procedures centering on positive motivation for learning, and organizations will stimulate and motivate participants to be productive, innovative and effective problem-solvers. Maybe even Discover magazine will bring the science of behavior into its pages!!!!

  9. scribbler

    When I die the whole universe will suck into a black hole in the center of my forehead…

    I DARE anyone to prove me wrong!

  10. Haribo

    Apart from all those that have been mentioned, some of which are more plausible if not likely in the near future, there has been a failure to recognise the ultimate demise of life on Earth. That being the expansion of the Sun into a Red Giant in 5-7 billion years time engulfing the entire planet and us along with it! Of course that is if we havent met our demise from one of the other aforementioned ways. Also before which time the Moon will have moved out of the Earth’s gravitational field in approx. 1.5 billion years (as its currently moving away at a rate of about 3 inches/ yr), causing the planet to become unstable and fall off its axis, not to mention having no further tidal forces to allow microbes in the sea to interact etc and causing basic catastrophe on Earth!

    Then there is the convergence of the Andromeda Galaxy with our own Milky Way Galaxy in about 3 billion years, although with the vast distances between the stars its unlikely that any two stars will actually collide, except perhaps for the ones closer to the centre of the galaxy!

    Finally there is the ultimate demise of the known universe, whats became accepted as the ‘Big Freeze’ theory.

    If we as a species havent evolved to a point where we can travel amongst the stars and colonise other worlds and other universes (given as we may live in a multiverse) or even different dimensions, then we will cease to exist permanently for all eternity!

  11. Dra.Guadalupe Mora

    If the human being is not able to stop demographic explosion and create an organized society which harmonize with the nature, Science and the human being will disappear

  12. Me That Knows Stuff

    Evolution? Pah! By suggesting that as a means of our downfall you reveal yourself as someone who has no understanding of how evolution works. Every single one of us is a mutant; subtly different from each other. There are now so many of us that it would take a gargantuan effort to arrange for enough people with similar mutant genes to breed with each other in order to up the density of a given mutation. You’d then have to engineer a disaster that favoured the breeding chances of those mutants above anyone else and voila! you’d be on course to see humans evolve.

    Chance – slim to none. We are now outside of evolution’s grasp and will be killed off by some hyper-bug or other.

    Possibly with a ray gun.

  13. Lulu thinks

    I think South Park had it right in their Immigration cartoon. We will eventually keep breeding until there is only one race. We will strip the world of everything because we will become so stupid with the lack of any cultural bonding. Our language will become senseless because of the mixture of languages. Their will be a few who hold out to old ways of individualism and they will invent time travel. The future will be so screwed up that only traveling back in time for food and jobs will be the answer. Hence the future travels to the past no more future. It could happen!!!

  14. phil 1065

    All these presents under the tree! Which one is meant for me?..Well, I intend to hang on just a while longer; it shouldn’t be but a few more decades before human over-population and its consequences (for example, our energy needs might be supplied by huge slave populations) render the prefix ‘bio-‘ anachronistic.

    This end deals only with life on Earth, not the obliteration of the Orb itself. How can a adolescent-minded species that breeds without restraint or apology (any others beside cancerous cells?) AND which elevates the merest among its members to positions of rule and power act on behalf of its living home?

    I’m an alcoholic, so I can’t drink,..but I’ll surely glurp down a few when the sky turns orange.

    Great responses from the other 14–even if the subject is draggy..

  15. You completed a few good points there. I did a search on the matter and found mainly folks will agree with your blog.


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