X-Events : Unpredictable Catastrophic Events


Joining John B. Wells, scientist and mathematician John Casti discussed human-caused catastrophic scenarios that could quickly bring about the end to our way of life. According to Casti, these X-events, as he calls them, happen because the systems involved become too complex for humans to effectively understand and thus susceptible to sudden collapse. People typically will not voluntarily downsize a complex system, so human nature steps in and does it for us, he added. Yet, there is a positive side to even the most dire X-event. The highly destructive Fukushima disaster, for instance, has allowed freedom to restructure many aspects of Japanese life (their political and economic systems), Casti said. "This kind of creative destruction is, in general, necessary in order to break out of old patterns that cannot really be changed in some slow, gradual evolutionary fashion; it really takes a revolution and these X-events are typically the catalyst which bring about that possibility," he explained.

Whenever a society faces a problem the standard response is usually to create a new level of bureaucracy to address it, Casti continued. As an example, he pointed to the Department of Homeland Security, created shortly after the 9-11 tragedy to combat terrorism on U.S. soil. It is almost certain that this level of bureaucracy will still exist when the next problem comes along, Casti suggested. Eventually, all of a society's resources are used to maintain the current structure and there is not enough left to deal with other problems that may arise, he noted, pointing to the former Soviet Union as an example. This "complexity overload" can also occur in the infrastructure that modern society has become dependent on, Casti said, warning of a possible internet collapse, global financial deflation, food supply breakdown, and destruction of electronics. A scenario that Casti thinks is the most disconcerting is destabilization of the nuclear landscape and detonation of a nuclear bomb. 

Biography:

One of the pioneers of complexity science and systems theory, John L. Casti, Ph.D., is Senior Research Scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, where he heads an initiative on Extreme Events in Human Society. He worked for many years at the Sante Fe Institute and The RAND Corporation, as well as serving on the faculties of Princeton, the University of Arizona, and New York University. A former editor of the journal Complexity, Casti has published nearly 20 volumes of academic and popular science and received his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Southern California. He lives in Vienna, Austria. 

Wikipedia
Various existential risks have the potential to destroy, or drastically restrict, human civilization; could cause human extinction; or even cause the end of Earth. Severe events could cause the extinction of all life on the planet Earth, the destruction of the planet Earth, the annihilation of the solar system, to the annihilation of our galaxy or even the entire universe. Existential risks are distinguished from other forms of risk both by their scope, affecting all of humanity, and severity; destroying or irreversibly crippling the target.

Natural disasters, such as supervolcanoes and asteroids, may pose existential risks if sufficiently powerful, though man-made events could also threaten the survival of intelligent life on Earth, like catastrophic global warming, nuclear war, or bioterrorism.

Despite the importance of existential risks, it is a difficult subject to study directly since humankind has never been destroyed before; while this does not mean that it will not be in the future, it does make modelling existential risks difficult, due in part to survivorship bias.

While individual threats, such as those posed by nuclear war or climate change, have been intensively studied on their own, the systematic study of existential risks did not begin until 2002

Future scenarios

Many scenarios have been suggested. Some that will almost certainly end life on Earth are certain to occur, but on a very long timescale. Others are likely to happen on a shorter timescale, but will probably not completely destroy civilization. Still others are extremely unlikely, and may even be impossible. For example, Nick Bostrom writes: Some foreseen hazards (hence not members of the current category) which have been excluded from the list on grounds that they seem too unlikely to cause a global terminal disaster are: solar flares, supernovae, black hole explosions or mergers, gamma-ray bursts, galactic center outbursts, buildup of air pollution, gradual loss of human fertility, and various religious doomsday scenarios

Omnicide

Omnicide is human extinction as a result of human action. Most commonly it refers to extinction through nuclear warfare or biological warfare, but it can also apply to extinction through means such as global anthropogenic ecological catastrophe.

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