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Archive for the ‘existential risks’ category: Page 108

Feb 16, 2008

Safeguarding Humanity

Posted by in categories: existential risks, futurism

I was born into a world in which no individual or group claimed to own the mission embodied in the Lifeboat Foundation’s two-word motto. Government agencies, charitable organizations, universities, hospitals, religious institutions — all might have laid claim to some peace of the puzzle. But safeguarding humanity? That was out of everyone’s scope. It would have been a plausible motto only for comic-book organizations such as the Justice League or the Guardians of the Universe.

Take the United Nations, conceived in the midst of the Second World War and brought into its own after the war’s conclusion. The UN Charter states that the United Nations exists:

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

All of these are noble, and incredibly important, aims. But even the United Nations manages to name only one existential risk, warfare, which it is pledged to help prevent. Anyone reading this can probably cite a half dozen more.

It is both exciting and daunting to live in an age in which a group like the Lifeboat Foundation can exist outside of the realm of fantasy. It’s exciting because our awareness of possibility is so much greater than it was even a generation or two ago. And it is daunting for exactly the same reason. We can envision plausible triumphs for humanity that really do transcend our wildest dreams, or at least our most glorious fantasies as articulated a few decades ago. Likewise, that worst of all possible outcomes — the sudden and utter disappearance of our civilization, or of our species, or of life itself — now presents itself as the end result of not just one possible calamity, but of many.

Continue reading “Safeguarding Humanity” »

Jan 29, 2008

Cheap (tens of dollars) genetic lab on a chip systems could help with pandemic control

Posted by in categories: biological, defense, existential risks, futurism, lifeboat

Cross posted from Next big future

Since a journal article was submitted to the Royal Society of Chemistry, the U of Alberta researchers have already made the processor and unit smaller and have brought the cost of building a portable unit for genetic testing down to about $100 Cdn. In addition, these systems are also portable and even faster (they take only minutes). Backhouse, Elliott and McMullin are now demonstrating prototypes of a USB key-like system that may ultimately be as inexpensive as standard USB memory keys that are in common use – only tens of dollars. It can help with pandemic control and detecting and control tainted water supplies.

This development fits in with my belief that there should be widespread inexpensive blood, biomarker and genetic tests to help catch disease early and to develop an understanding of biomarker changes to track disease and aging development. We can also create adaptive clinical trials to shorten the development and approval process for new medical procedures


The device is now much smaller than size of a shoe-box (USB stick size) with the optics and supporting electronics filling the space around the microchip

Continue reading “Cheap (tens of dollars) genetic lab on a chip systems could help with pandemic control” »

Jan 25, 2008

On the brink of Synthetic Life: DNA synthesis has increased twenty times to full bacteria size

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, defense, existential risks, futurism, lifeboat, military, nanotechnology

Reposted from Next Big Future which was advancednano.

A 582,970 base pair sequence of DNA has been synthesized.

It’s the first time a genome the size of a bacterium has chemically been synthesized that’s about 20 times longer than [any DNA molecule] synthesized before.

This is a huge increase in capability. It has broad implications for DNA nanotechnology and synthetic biology.

Continue reading “On the brink of Synthetic Life: DNA synthesis has increased twenty times to full bacteria size” »

Jan 24, 2008

Is 2007 TU24 A Wake Up Call?

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, existential risks, space

On January 29th, 2008 Near Earth Object 2007 TU24 will intersect Earth’s orbit at the startlingly close proximity of only 0.0038AU — or 1.4 lunar distances from our own planet. According to the resources I reviewed this NEO represents the closest known approach to earth until 2027 — that is of course assuming no more surprises like 2007 TU24 which itself wasn’t discovered until October 11th of 2007.

It seems to me that this is an assumption we can’t afford to make. It appears that 2007 TU24 is not going to strike the planet however it is possible that it will pass through a portion of earth’s magnetosphere. The repercussions of this transit can’t at this time be predicted with any certainty though they apparently range from no effect whatsoever to potentially catastrophic changes to weather, tectonic plate movement, the oceans and more.

Some might say that we’ve no need to be concerned — that this kind of near miss (and lets be frank here — in the vastness of even our solar system 1.4 lunar distances from earth is a near miss) is a freak occurrence. Don’t be so sure. Just one day later — that’s right, on January 30th it was thought possible — one might even say reasonably likely — that another asteroid will strike our second nearest celestial neighbor, Mars.

Recent updates based upon more detailed information about the path of asteroid 2007 WD5 have concluded that the odds of an impact occurring have now dropped to one in ten thousand making an impact exceptionally unlikely. However, it should be evident that our ability to identify objects less than 100 meters across is insufficient to provide us with enough time to do anything aside from evacuating the regions likely to be impacted by a collision with an incoming NEO.

Continue reading “Is 2007 TU24 A Wake Up Call?” »

Jan 22, 2008

Cell phone sensors detect radiation to thwart nuclear terrorism

Posted by in categories: defense, existential risks, nuclear weapons

PhysOrg.com is reporting that researchers at Purdue University are working to develop a system that would use a network of cell phones to track radiation in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks with dirty bombs or nuclear weapons. Tiny solid-state radiation sensors are already commercially available and the additional circuitry would not add significant bulk to portable electronic products.

The researchers tested the system and demonstrated that it is capable of detecting a weak radiation source 15 feet from the sensors. A fully developed system could cover a nation with millions of cell phones equipped with radiation sensors able to detect even light residues of radioactive material. Because cell phones already contain global positioning locators, the network of phones would serve as a large scale tracking system that would require no intervention from individual users.

Jan 10, 2008

Poll: Top 10 Existential Risks

Posted by in category: existential risks

How would you allocate a hypothetical $100 million budget for a Lifeboat Foundation study of the top 10 existential risks… risks that are both global and terminal?

$?? Biological viruses…
$?? Environmental global warming…
$?? Extraterrestrial invasion…
$?? Governments abusive power…
$?? Nanotechnology gray goo…
$?? Nuclear holocaust…
$?? Simulation Shut Down if we live in one…
$?? Space Threats asteroids…
$?? Superintelligent AI un-friendly…
$?? Other
$100 million total

To vote, please reply below.

Results after 80 votes updated: Jan 13, 2008 11 AM EST

Continue reading “Poll: Top 10 Existential Risks” »

Nov 29, 2007

Planning for First Lifeboat Foundation Conference Underway

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, cybercrime/malcode, defense, existential risks, futurism, geopolitics, lifeboat, nanotechnology, robotics/AI, space

Planning for the first Lifeboat Foundation conference has begun. This FREE conference will be held in Second Life to keep costs down and ensure that you won’t have to worry about missing work or school.

While an exact date has not yet been set, we intend to offer you an exciting line up of speakers on a day in the late spring or early summer of 2008.

Several members of Lifeboat’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) have already expressed interest in presenting. However, potential speakers need not be Lifeboat Foundation members.

If you’re interested in speaking, want to help, or you just want to learn more, please contact me at [email protected]

Nov 28, 2007

Help Develop the NanoShield

Posted by in categories: defense, existential risks, geopolitics, lifeboat, military, nanotechnology

What’s the NanoShield you ask? It’s a long-term scientific research project aimed at creating a nanotechnoloigical immune system. You can learn more about it here.

Facebook users — please come join the cause and help fund the Lifeboat Foundation’s NanoShield project.

Not a Facebook user? No worries. By joining the Lifeboat Foundation and making even a small donation you can have a hugely positive impact on humanity’s future well being.

So why not join us?

Nov 19, 2007

Helphookup.com internet empowered volunteers against disasters

Posted by in categories: defense, existential risks, futurism, lifeboat, open access, open source, sustainability

The inspiration of Help Hookup is actually a comic book called Global Frequency by Warren Ellis. My brother, Alvin Wang, took the idea to startup weekend and they launched the idea this past weekend for hooking up volunteers. It is similar to the concepts of David Brin’s “empowered citizens” and Glenn Reynolds “an army of Davids”. The concepts are compatible with the ideas and causes of the Lifeboat foundation.

Global Frequency was a network of 1,001 people that handled the jobs that the governments did not have the will to handle. I thought that it was a great idea and it would be more powerful with 1,000,001 people or 100,000,001 people. We would have to leave out the killing that was in the comic.

Typhoons, earthquakes, and improperly funded education could all be handled. If there is a disaster, doctors could volunteer. Airlines could provide tickets. Corporations could provide supples. Trucking companies could provide transportation. Etc. State a need, meet the need. No overhead. No waste.

The main site is here it is a way for volunteers to hookup

The helphookup blog is tracking the progress.

Nov 10, 2007

Yellowstone Caldera Rising

Posted by in category: existential risks

The Yellowstone caldera has moved upwards nine inches over the last three years, a record rate since geologists first began taking measurements in the 1920s. This is the result of a Los Angeles-sized blob of magma that recently rose up into the chamber only six miles below the surface. The Yellowstone caldera is an ancient supervolcano. Last time it erupted, 642,000 years ago, it ejected 1,000 cubic kilometers of magma into the air. If this happened in today’s world, it would kill millions and cover most of the United States in a layer of ash at least a centimeter thick. The lighter ash would rise up into the atmosphere, initiating a volcanic winter and ruining crops worldwide.

Calderas rise and fall worldwide all the time without erupting. But the activity in Yellowstone is still concerning. Like a reckless teenager in a sports car, it seems as if our civilization laughs off the possibility of its own demise like a complete joke. Yet the right sort of event, and we could be knocked flat. Instead of waiting for a disaster to happen, we should prepare in advance to minimize its probability.

I would like to see scientists do a study on the feasibility of using nuclear weapons to initiate a supervolcano eruption. If it looks feasible, then park security in Yellowstone should be increased.