Six Doomsday Scenarios

Ever since human life has gained a foothold on Earth we’ve been obsessed with doomsday predictions. Apocalyptic scenarios have been floating in and out of existence, their dates having been pushed and their scenarios revised. The year 2012 has come and passed and we’ve managed to avoid destruction, mainly because the Mayan prophecy was interpreted as factual, despite its vagueness. Let’s examine some of the existing doomsday predictions the future might hold for us.

Massive Solar Flares

The Earth’s magnetosphere is a structure that we should thank everyday. It protects us from charged particles in the solar winds, also deflecting the cosmic rays that would strip our planet’s atmosphere in a short period of time. Needles to say, all lifeforms save for a few resilient microorganisms would perish.

In recent times, there has been an increase in the magnitude and frequency of solar flares. During a solar flare, the Sun throws massive amounts of gamma rays and X-rays in our direction but thankfully our atmosphere absorbs most of these high-energy rays.

CME

But another solar event called a coronal mass ejection (CME) has the potential to inflict more serious damage. During CMEs, the sun’s magnetic field fluctuates and causes a large portion of our star’s surface to quickly expand and eject billions of tons of particles. These particles ride a magnetic shockwave that has the potential to disrupt our planet’s own magnetic field. In this scenario, all large conductors on Earth could become charged with electricity. This would essentially mean an abundance of short-circuits would fry power grids all around the world. While small electronics might survive, they would be useless without power. Power grids operate almost at full capacity in most developed countries and it wouldn’t take a whole lot to cripple them. In the event of a CME hitting the Earth, it would take months to make an attempt at recovery and estimated damages would range in the trillions of dollars in the United States alone. No communications, no power, no transportation and a medical system with medieval equipment for months. All of this and much more taking place in a society where human beings trample themselves on Black Friday.

If this sounds scary, it should. If it sounds unlikely, well, it happened before, as recent as 1859. Northern lights could be viewed as far south as the Caribbean and sparks showered down from telegraph poles, causing numerous fires. Comparing the current technological dependency to that of the 1800’s one could safely assume that if the sun throws us a curveball, we’re pretty much screwed.

The Armageddon

We’re not going to go into the details of this biblical war of the end of times because it’s been interpreted in every way possible. Needless to say, should it occur, we’d all be in for a bad time. Even if the seven last plagues are only metaphoric, I can’t possibly imagine a single scenario where stinging locusts and mass-murdering supernatural horsemen would be pleasant.

rio
Why Rio?

Despite the book of Revelation stating that nobody knows when this day will come, people have been adding the numbers throughout history and up until now, the Apocalypse has repeatedly stood us up. Pope Sylvester II predicted it would occur on the first day of the year 1000, Martin Luther said that the end of the world would come no later than the year 1600. According to Nostradamus, the “King of Terrors” would descend from the skies in “1999 and seven months.” Y2K came and went along with all of its ties to anarchy and the Antichrist.

According to unreliable sources, the Apocalypse is next due in March 2015, and then in 2020, 2021 and 2026. Because of their low credibility we needn’t worry. The next widely accepted date for the Armageddon is 2239, according to an opinion on the Talmud in mainstream Orthodox Judaism. It states that when 6000 years from the creation of Adam have passed, we’re in big trouble. Seeing as the Scriptures said this day would come “like a thief” we might as well discard these dates and be terrified everyday, like normal human beings.

The Robot Apocalypse

Out of the realm of pseudo-religious beliefs and into the pseudo-scientific one we go. The cybernetic revolution or robot uprising is a scenario involving sentient artificial intelligence that one day decides humans are in the way of its evolution. The robotic race would then begin exterminating human life since we’d be nothing more than inferior meatbags to them. In this über-case of creation revolting against the creator, we would end up on the strangling end of a cold, robotic grip.

This phenomenon has given rise to some good books and movies but is it really possible? In the not-so-distant past, the most advanced robots could be dealt off with a simple sideways push or by introducing them to stairs.

ASIMO-falls-down-stairs-I-cant-1378140824b
One small step for a man, one giant obstacle for ASIMO.

Moments like these will soon become distant memories because the robotic industry is steadily growing. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been constantly designing and testing robots that look increasingly menacing. In the following years the scientific community is expecting a breakthrough in computing power such as advanced artificial neural networks or quantum computers. There’s constant research in the field of metamaterials and there’s no doubt that in the following decade(s) technology could develop new generations of advanced robotic intelligence. At some point, this technology could become common enough to have the resources for a takeover. If future engineers find a way to replicate the human mind and enhance it with all the benefits of artificial intelligence it might become sentient and instantly surpass us. Technically, this could become a possibility in the next century, provided we don’t wipe out ourselves in the meantime.

So, the bigger and smarter robots could overcome us. Great. But what about tiny ones with raging sex drives?

The Grey Goo Hypothesis

Nanotechnology is evolving too so in the future we might see nanobots doing magic. From the outside it would sure look like magic, anyway. Devices working on such small levels could eradicate bacterial diseases. They could repair tissue. They could rearrange atoms. They could be engineered to self-replicate since I can’t imagine manufacturing them would be a walk in the park. And should this replication get out of hand we might be in trouble. If the number of nanobots replicating uncontrollably would be large enough even at a slow speed their numbers would increase in a geometric progression.

nanobots

Their number would depend on the availability of resources but if they had the power to manipulate individual atoms they could consume the entire planet. Heck, why stop there? The entire solar system could be up for grabs. Given the chance to evolve, the little critters might one innumerable day from now consume the entire universe. It’s so crazy it just might work.*

Our Own Sun Turns Against Us

Nothing lasts forever. In about 3.5 million years’ time, our sun will become 40% brighter than today. The polar icecaps will melt, the oceans will boil and our planet will lose humidity, becoming a dry and hot Venus.

Venus
The planet kind, not the goddess kind.

Two and a half billion years later, the sun’s core has expended its hydrogen fuel and the resulted helium begins collapsing on itself. This process will make it heat it up and get denser. The sun will swell to as many as 150 times its diameter, meaning it could consume what’s left of Earth by that time. This isn’t a speculation, it’s scientific certainty. But we hopefully have enough time to colonize other solar systems by then.

Heat Death of the Universe

This is the ultimate doomsday scenario and has to do with thermodynamic equilibrium. At some point, the universe will have spent itself. The infinite reaches of space would sometimes be crossed by stray photons and leptons. The smallest of the small and rare too. This means that no more heat exchange will be performed and the universe and eventually everything would grind to a screechless halt. Well, for something like that to occur we would have to wait around a googol years or 10100  years if you prefer. If you have problems imagining that, maybe this helps:

googol*Probably not.

Ragnar Larsen

2 comments

  1. The falling robot made my day. One day a robot will think the same about a falling human.

  2. I don’t think so, we’ll have blown ourselves up way before we get to perfecting robots.

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