Scientists List 12 Ways the World Could End


Scientists List 12 Ways the World Could End

We’re a little late on this one, but last week there was a report from Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute and the Global Challenges Foundation detailing twelve possible ways that the world could end and assigning probabilities to each.

The report is here [PDF], and RT has one of the many media summaries of it. The usual suspects are all there: global pandemic, supervolcano, astroid strike, nuclear war, climate change, financial system meltdown, and so on.

What’s interesting about this report is not just that the authors assigned probabilities to each of these events, but it’s also interesting to see what probabilities they assigned.

If you were going to rank the study’s collapse scenarios based on their probability assignments, you’d have to put nuclear war (0.005%) well behind extreme climate change (0.01%) and well ahead of a global pandemic (0.0001%). That seems kind of off to me. I’d have put pandemic first, then nuclear war, then climate change. But what do I know? I’m no expert on disease, climate science, or nuclear proliferation.

I am, however, an expert on technology, and the fact that they put the risks from an apocalypse driven by synthetic biology at 0.01% (up there with climate change) is crazy to me. But that’s not even the craziest part.


The thing that’s truly nuts is their assessment of the likelihood of a Terminator-type scenario, where some malevolent AI wipes us all out. Their estimate for this comes in from 0% to a whopping 10%.

Despite the fact that such tech luminaries as Elon Musk and Bill Gates have recently warned about the possibility of a malevolent AI taking over the world, I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually does AI who thinks this is anything more than laughable. And I met quite a few such people in decade plus that I was in grad school and doing Ars Technica (I was a founder there).

So of all the items on that list, I’d put the AI doomsday scenario as the least likely to occur, far below a global pandemic or a nuclear war.

But maybe I’m wrong. If so, then all of those folks who are prepping for an EMP event (surprisingly EMP didn’t make the list) should probably forget about coming up with ways to shield electronics from magnetic pulses and start cooking up ways to generate such pulses and disable hostile electronics, instead.

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Jon Stokes is Deputy Editor at

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