Weak link? Long term survival of mankind?

What is generally considered the weak link in the survival of our species? Is it a virus, pollution of the atmosphere? Resources? Could it be something we don’t recognize?

2-dimensional self-interest. Even when an individual is keenly aware he is more burden than benefit to the society or environment, he will insist on remaining so. Typically.

The fragility of life itself. The issues you mention in the OP are unlikely to cause the end of the species. Other species, perhaps, but not humans. Humans are too inventive and learn too easily for any of those to cause extinction. Sure, a particularly nasty virus could wipe out billions of lives, but a percentage would survive or find a way to cure or prevent the spread. Pollution is a self-limiting problem. Pollution is caused by too many people. If pollution got so bad that it was resulting in massive death tolls, the pollution would stop being produced. For the vast majority of the time that mankind has existed, the biggest problem has been starvation/famine. That threat pretty much ended once man developed agriculture, though. Sure, famine and starvation still exist, but they aren’t going to wipe out the species.

I think the biggest threat to mankind is man itself. That is, overpopulation. The loss of resources is only a result of too many people trying to utilize those resources.

I would say “no” to a virus. We have survived disease epidemics before. They’re nasty and kill bunches of us, but not to the point of wiping out the species.

I would lean no on pollution as well. We’re pretty bright all things considered and global warming or particulate pollution might be catastrophic, but I think that we’d move north and get air filters. Beijing is a nightmare pollution scenario right now or London in the 50s and it hasn’t resulted in extinction.

Resource use is self-correcting. You wipe out 99.9% of us and we’re using 99.9% fewer resources with still plenty of people around to make chil’runs.

Maybe nuclear war. I think that it could happen so quickly and devastatingly that we might not be able to adapt in time. Although I think that that’s unlikely. You figure that some Aussies or Tierra del Fuegans would be able to survive it. Honestly, I can’t think of anything off-hand that would lead to the species going extinct. Societal collapse? Sure, plenty of paths to that, but literally having no breeding population of humans? That’s pretty tough to imagine. We’re pretty resourceful.

If you absolutely forced me to pick something that could lead to our extinction, I would go with poorly programmed Artificial Intelligence. It’s not inconceivable that such a thing would be able to adapt to destroying us faster than we could adapt to not being destroyed. We’re becoming less and less averse to putting AI in war machines and I could see that biting us in the rear one day. Will it? I’d say the chance is low, but not zero.

A can envision a lot of scenarios that might wipe out 70% of the population. One thing I could imagine happening is that the global warming allowed massive methane gas releases from the arctic even more massive than current estimates allow for. This could possibly accelerate global warming beyond levels of survival. But I really know very little about that science.

Humans’ ability of destruction on a planetary scale, which will eventually trigger their own demise.

How will it wipe out the human species if all the wild plants and animals disappear? I know the part about possible new medicines in the rain forest and how we need honeybees to pollinate the apple trees, but societies have survived with no new medicines and no bees for quite a while.

The extinction rate is mostly because wild habitat is disappearing, and the reason it is disappearing is that humans are taking it over for their own purposes.



Imagine a virus as destructive as HIV that spreads as readily as colds. The world is going to be a nasty place if global warming is not controlled. Most of the coastal habitats will be under water when the Antarctic melts and people the world over will be clamoring to inhabit the limited space left. It will make the chaos at the southern US border look like a school picnic.

It’s been estimated that we’ve been as close to 2000 people away from extinction about 74000 years ago. And that wasn’t when there was 7 Billion People beforehand. I don’t think there is anything on this earth that would wipe out all people. I don’t think there is anything humans could devise that would wipe out ALL people (not even nukes or biological weapons). I don’t believe planet bound natural disasters like Yellowstone supervolcano would kill off all people. Extra-terrestrial event like an asteroid? Maybe. It’d have to be a big one, 60 miles wide or so.

Large meteorite

I doubt it’ll be any infection. Humanity survived infections long before we had medicine.

However a bioengineered virus could be a different animal. But even that, if it kills 99% of people will still leave 80 million survivors. You can repopulate with 80 million people.

Resource depletion sucks, but its not the end of the world. Humans don’t need ‘much’ to survive. Food, water, protection from the elements, protection from microbes, protection from physical injuries, etc. If you give people that, most will live to 70 or so. We don’t all need 2000 square foot homes and our own cars. People can and do live in dormitories and bicycle or take the bus.

Plus as we run out of resources, it creates incentives to invest in my resources. Either by mining asteroids, or recycling better, or looking for alternative resources (if we run out of oil, we make oil out of coal or we switch to electric cars, etc).

I’d say AI is probably our big risk.

HIV really isn’t a death sentence if you take medication for it.

Also what you describe sounds kind of like the plague or smallpox. We survived those without medicine.

In the context of the Fermi Paradox (where are all the aliens?), what you are asking about would be called a Great Filter - a low probability hurdle on the path from abiogenesis to the emergence of intelligence, technological civilization, and ultimately interstellar colonization. It’s possible that one of the steps prior to where we are now is unlikely, and we have just been lucky. But perhaps there is a later step that tends to wipe out intelligent civilizations at an intermediate technological stage.

Non-anthropogenic existential risks such as asteroid impact or GRB have a significant probability only over millions of years, so they are relatively unimportant now that we have reached a stage of rapid technological development. Anthropogenic existential risks include things like nuclear war or runaway global warming, and some less obvious things like the emergence of superintelligent AI.

Some extensive Wiki articles:

Nick Bostrom and (on AI in particular) Eliezer Yudkowsky are well worth reading.

It’s funny how many people don’t see the extinction of our species as even possible, despite the fact that extinction of species is pretty much the clearest, most established lesson of the fossil record.

Global extinction events happened either very suddenly through meteor impacts or very gradually through evolution or continental drift. The latter two happen over hundreds of thousands or millions of years and are not an immediate or even short term concern. In the very long term the increasing brightness of the sun will kill everything; that too is not an immediate concern.

Despite the delusions of the paranoid, humanity is not going to kill itself. The population is far too widely spread.

Sure, but then the greatest long term threat to mankind’s survival is time. As Quartz said, the greatest threat to our long term survival is the sun blowing up (probably more accurately the heat death of the universe since we could theoretically go somewhere else when the sun bellies up), but I don’t think that’s what the OP was really wanting to hear. I think they wanted to know what the greatest short term threat is. Yes, I think it’s a given that humanity long term is doomed. Pretty much every religion and philosophy and scientific theory says that at least the physical parts of humanity ain’t gonna be here forever. It’s something that I think we can all get behind. There will come a time when all of our descendants are gone and if we are lucky enough to evolve into something else, they’ll be gone too and at some point there won’t even be artifacts that would have ever given a hint that we existed. Ultimately, humanity is destined for annihilation and there’s nothing we can do about it. I think the OP is thinking more along the lines of next few hundred years what has the chance of taking us out.

Many species have lived for endless millions of years before going extinct.

Not only that, none of them were tool making species. Within a few hundred years humans will be an interplanetary and probably an interstellar species. We will have problem solving capabilities that make 2018 look like the stone age.

How will our entire species be wiped out then? Supposedly when a civilization reaches type II on the kardashev scale it becomes immortal (unless the universe itself collapses).

If we were more like chimps I’d agree, we are going extinct. But every year our problem solving abilities get better while the major threats to our survival (pollution, asteroids, supervolcanos, etc) do not get more complex.

No, just because something has a probability of one, that does not imply that it constitutes the greatest risk to survival. If there are (say) persistent existential risks with a 10% probability per 1000 years, then the chance that humanity is still around when the sun dies in 5 billion years is zero. So the probability that humanity is destroyed by the sun is zero, it is not a threat at all.

In the short run, it’s likely to be weapons of mass destruction. Our instinct to inflict violence on each other has remained steady but the weapons we use have become increasingly devastating. Eventually we’re probably going to pull the trigger on a gun so big it’ll kill everyone.

In the long run, if we avoid killing ourselves through violence, it will probably be depletion of resources. Like our instinct to violence, our instinct to eat and breed is mainly limited only by our ability to act on it. And we keep figuring out new ways to consume more.