IssuesHere is a chance to use your powers for good and save the world--for real, at least from an expected value (probability times lives) point of view. The Global Risk Reduction Special Interest Group has as its purpose finding ways to reduce global risks, risks of human extinction.
Yes, there are such risks. There are more than you might think. Sir Martin Rees, Britain's Astronomer Royal, lists risks that could kill our species: asteroid impact, the gray goo problem of nanotech, run-away global warming, and many more. He rates our probability of surviving this century at 50%. (We think him pessimistic.)
Some risks are intractable, others are not. There are ways to reduce some of these risks, for example by studying near earth objects or restricting science. These methods are worth debate since they also have costs, for example restrictions on science might reduce the probability of transcendent discoveries.
Individual efforts to reduce risks can make a difference. If you, the reader, write a strong letter to the editor that has a one in 1,000 chance of eliminating a one in 1,000 risk, the expected value in lives saved is 6,500. Few heros of legend have saved more. (Expected value is often the right way to judge these things. When is it right, and when not? See, more thought is needed, there is work to be done.)
Our best example of risk is mini black holes, which some physicists predict will be created at the upcoming LHC particle collider at CERN due in 2008. Mini black holes are supposed to dissipate via Hawking radiation. But Hawking radiation is controversial. [A. Helfer, "Do black holes radiate?" Reports on Progress in Physics 66(6)-2003 p 943-1008 http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/gr-qc/0304042] A collider/cosmic ray analogy is supposed to demonstrate safety, but in some models colliders cause trouble and cosmic rays do not. If safety factors do not work, a black hole could swallow earth.
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