A science journalist has identified eight ways the world could end, with deadly biotechnology, Terminator-style robots and nuclear war as the greatest threats to life on Earth.
Bryan Walsh, 41, a former foreign correspondent and author from Brooklyn, also spoke in his new book about climate change, supervolcanoes, asteroids, diseases and even aliens.
End time: A short guide to the end of the world came after Mr. Walsh spent two years looking at the horrible ways in which the world could handle Armageddon.
He has assessed both the severity of each disaster and the likelihood that it would actually happen.
Mr. Walsh says: & # 39;I don't want people to feel that we are doomed and that the world ends tomorrow and things like that.
& # 39; I want them to see that we are doing or could do something about each of these risks.
& # 39; We must ensure that these disasters do not happen because you cannot hide in a hole for years to prevent this. & # 39;
The most credible and worrying threat to planet Earth is biotechnology, according to Mr. Walsh.
He fears that extremist scientists experimenting with diseases can produce a supervirus that can withstand vaccines and antiviral drugs, with the intention of clearing a large amount of the human race.
The use of genetic manipulation in diseases, he notes, can change people's lives for the better, but the catastrophe that can occur if done wrong or in the wrong hands can end the world.
The most credible and worrying threat to planet Earth is biotechnology (file photo), according to Mr. Walsh
He makes the eerie point that ISIS and earlier al-Qaeda have tried in recent years to arm smallpox, a disease that has existed since 1977.
The lethality of a disease like this, or the more recent threat of Ebola, in combination with the infection rate of a cold, can cause chaos, causing the & # 39; perfect bioweapon & # 39; arises.
Mr. Walsh says: I think this is most worrying. It is the ability to use new technology, such as gene processing, to develop viruses that are worse than, more contagious than and more deadly than anything else in nature. & # 39;
In one example he used, John Hopkins Center for Health Security in Washington DC discovered that 150 million people would be eradicated by a biotech disease – 2 percent of the world's population.
The knock-on effect of this also turns out to be costly in the experiment, because economies are collapsing and unemployment is rising.
The terror caused by the public awareness that the murderous disease was not a freak of nature, as it usually is, but caused by the & # 39; malice & # 39; of radicals or & # 39; an alienated scientist & # 39; would only add to the pandemonium.
And if it were manufactured, the species could be reintroduced to the public repeatedly, so that doctors and scientists fought a lost battle to treat those affected.
& # 39; It is disturbing because only a normal illness can kill many people & # 39 ;, says Mr. Walsh, & # 39; but if you make something on purpose in the lab on purpose or by accident, it would be even more powerful than anything in nature, then that is really dangerous. & # 39;
Criminals may not be that far away from access to the deadly bio-weapons.
Mr. Walsh warned that, unlike in the past, only a small number of twisted virologists are needed to make the terrorists dream come true.
And, he adds, there are around 1 million scientists who can perform such a task.
But there is hope.
Walsh also buried in the linked world of gene sequencing, where researchers now have the means to quickly diagnose diseases, to prevent them from spreading unnoticed.
He says it could be an option to match the slower vaccination process.
This, Walsh says, could be the way to prevent a supervirus outbreak – with an equally powerfully developed antidote that can suppress the bug on those affected before killing millions.
Another product of the enormous technological progress of mankind is the fear that the Terminator film could now be realized.
Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) have increased enormously in the last ten years, because makers are trying to meet a growing demand for robots to make life at home easier.
But could it threaten the world in the same way as Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg assassin in 1985?
Another product of the enormous technological progress of mankind is the fear that the Terminator film (photo) could now be realized
Walsh thinks so: & # 39; If we can develop AI that is truly intelligent, that can think like a human, that is really worrying. & # 39;
He warns: & # 39; It may mean that it can literally take over us. & # 39;
In a shocking demonstration of the transfer of power, he adds: & # 39; We'll be junk. & # 39;
The threat stems from the fact that computers are now learning & # 39; learning to learn & # 39; and the control that people have.
Fortunately, Mr. Walsh says, people are currently covering the machines in what they are allowed to learn.
But their ability to store huge amounts of data and process much faster than the human brain means they can become much superior intellects – & # 39; super intelligent & # 39; as Mr. Walsh puts it.
And our widespread presence on this planet could, according to the author, stand in the way of robots' plans and lead to our extinction, just as people have with less intelligent animals such as the dodo and western black rhino.
Yet, as with bio-engineering, there is a downside – because creating super intelligence can lead to super opportunities.
The potential to live forever through & # 39; consciousness in a virtual sky & # 39; could make AI our ally and savior, instead of killer.
At this stage, however, Mr. Walsh says: & # 39; It is really hard to say (which way it will go) because it depends on what you are going to do with AI.
& # 39; We are essentially the top of the food chain on this planet because we are the smartest species that has been created. & # 39;
Yet he adds: & # 39; But if we create a smarter species than we do, that would potentially be worrying. & # 39;
Nuclear war is possibly the most talked about and expected way the world will end.
The huge supply of weapons that arose after the Second World War and the increased tension between superpowers such as the US, Russia and China in recent years can cause disaster.
The largest and most powerful thermo-nuclear bomb ever to blast was the RDS-220 hydrogen bomb, known as the & # 39; Tsar Bomba & # 39 ;.
The nuclear bomb was tested by the Soviet Union on October 30, 1961 and was therefore more than 50 years old.
Nuclear war is possibly the most talked about and expected way in which the world will end (file photo)
But the devastating bomb had the explosive power of 3,800 Hiroshima bombs and sent a mushroom cloud of 130,000 feet, or four and a half Mount Everests.
An estimated 166,000 people died as a result of the attack on Hiroshima, meaning that a & # 39; tsar Bomba & # 39; has the potential to destroy 630,800,000.
This is about two from the United States.
Walsh calls the nuclear threat & # 39; the last curtain for humanity & # 39 ;.
& # 39; (Nuclear War) is still a major concern and has become even worse in recent years, as you have seen with the US under Trump, Russia under Vladimir Putin, they are both kind of withdrawn from global treaties on arms control & # 39 ;, Mr. Walsh says.
Referring to the huge Nyonoksa explosion in Russia on August 8, he adds: You know, we saw the accident around one of his nuclear weapons program in Russia just a few weeks ago.
& # 39; That's pretty disturbing, and you see a lot of aggression there as well as in China. & # 39;
In his book, Mr. Walsh delves into the history of the atomic bomb and traces it from his beginnings during the Second World War to the Cold War to his own experiences with the nuclear threat.
He notes how American scientists and military leaders at the time of development were not worried about what would happen if they went wrong … but what would happen if they went well.
The largest and most powerful thermo-nuclear bomb ever exploded was the RDS-220 hydrogen bomb, known as the & # 39; Tsar Bomba & # 39; (photo)
He believes that for politicians then and now the short-term success of a more powerful nuclear arsenal overshadows any attempt to look at the long-term threat.
He says: & I think we should choose leaders who are smart enough to pull us back from the edge, realize that we are doing what we are doing towards the end of the Cold War, where leaders came together and treaties came into being brought those war heads.
& # 39; We need people, the public, to push them over. Once upon a time there was public opinion, but nowadays they are no longer so attached. & # 39;
In the life of the everyday person, the prospect of a nuclear war remains an unlikely and unthinkable scenario, says Mr. Walsh.
The & # 39; still defies reality & # 39 ;, he adds.
Walsh believes that despite the threats from the other seven factors discussed in his book, nuclear is the & # 39; most important existential risk that we are now facing & # 39 ;.
He explains how there is no defense against them and that they have the potential to & # 39; destroy the entire planet and even end our species & # 39 ;.
On a person he remarks: & # 39; It makes me angry to know that my son was born in a world where that fear is very real again. & # 39;
Yet Mr. Walsh discusses the things that people can do to survive a nuclear war.
Perhaps surprisingly, he says: bending over and covering is actually good advice.
Yet this is only for small-scale nuclear weapons, such as a kiloton-range bomb.
In the case of a complete nuclear war, he quotes historian Alex Wellerstein as saying: & # 39; There is not much you can do. & # 39;
Supervolcanoes are the most dangerous natural existential threat, according to Mr. Walsh.
Dangerous asteroids can be followed for decades before they can affect the earth, while people know much less about the much closer home threat from volcanoes.
And super-eruptions can be planned at any time, with Mr. Walsh quoting the findings of Bristol University scientist Jonathan Rougier that an explosion could occur once every 17,000 years.
Supervolcanoes (stock photo) are the most dangerous natural existential threat, according to Mr. Walsh
The last one was more than 26,000 years ago, so we were late.
Walsh mentions Yellowstone Park in Wyoming as a sobering example.
Home to & # 39; the world's most famous super volcano, has seen three super-eruptions over the past 2.1 million years, Mr. Walsh writes, while still very active.
If it exploded, it would destroy life if Magna squirts from his 28-mile-wide caldera, which was caused by the last explosion 640,000 years ago.
Mr. Walsh outlines how the super volcano could end the world.
There would be powerful earthquakes if magma rushed to the surface of the earth followed by a & # 39; titanic eruption & # 39; while the enormous toxic discharge bursts through it.
Lava would flood 40 miles around the national park and continue to spit out ash and gas for days and days.
It is these gases that pose the broader threat to life on Earth, as they rush 15 miles into the atmosphere and plunge much of the US into darkness, as well as tear the tissue of people and eat them away at their lungs.
Walsh mentions the Yellowstone Park (photo) in Wyoming, as a sobering example. Home to & # 39; the world's most famous super volcano, has seen three super-eruptions over the past 2.1 million years, Mr. Walsh writes, while still very active
The eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano could cost US $ 3 trillion, according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency survey quoted by Mr. Walsh, but the amount is a ballpark figure.
Mr. Walsh says: “It is absolutely worrying, if it were to erupt, the continental, even global, effects of spreading volcanic ash around the United States, resulting in temperatures falling, it would be difficult to and you would end up with worldwide hunger. & # 39;
Yet he added: & # 39; It is worrying, but again, it is very unlikely that this will happen. & # 39;
After dealing with the very real threats from nuclear bombs, biotechnology and volcanoes, the unknown threat from aliens may seem like a strange chapter in the book.
But Mr. Walsh firmly believes that with the large number of planets in the universe, there is still potential for other intelligent life, one that could cause us to die out.
& # 39; This is two-sided, & # 39; he says, adding: & # 39; If there is an alien species that could reach the earth, it would be so technologically more advanced than we are that we would be essentially helpless against it. & # 39;
Mr. Walsh firmly believes that with the large number of planets in the universe, there is still potential for other intelligent lives that could cause us to die out (file photo)
& # 39; It would not look like Independence Day or one of these films, it would be as if the American army were taking on a primitive tribe. & # 39;
Nevertheless, Mr. Walsh admits that the question is not how we can ward off their attacks – because he says we can do little – but the age-old question of whether or not they exist.
He says: & # 39; And then there is the other risk that if there are no extraterrestrial beings, that is a little worrying, because it may mean that when you develop technology as a civilization you will probably destroy yourself. & # 39 ;
It would be as if the American army were taking on a primitive tribe
He continues: & # 39; The more we learn about space, the more we see that there are planets that should support life, there are quite a few, so if there is nothing, then it's just weird and you think that there is something but they themselves have been destroyed. & # 39;
Walsh adds: & # 39; And that could mean that it could happen to us too. & # 39;
He believes that we should be more concerned about this, especially that after decades of research, no concrete evidence of aliens has yet been found.
Walsh says: & You look at this planet and you see two cultures with very different levels of technology that meet – it is usually bad for one of them. And that's how I look at it.
& # 39; When the Europeans came to America, we saw what happened there.
& # 39; I think aliens coming to our earth would be the same. You would actually have a similar kind of destruction. & # 39;
Films such as the 1998 blockbuster Armageddon and the fate of the dinosaurs have captured the public's imagination of a huge asteroid ending our planet.
But Mr. Walsh thinks that the odds of this are not only low, but would not be devastating if it happened.
He notes that there is a probability of 0.000005 percent that an & # 39; asteroid at extinction level & # 39; hits the earth within a year.
Mr. Walsh believes that the chances of an asteroid that ends life on Earth are not only low, but would not be devastating if it happened
He explains that with the dinosaurs the asteroid Chicxulub hit the seabed in Mexico, releasing unusually large deposits of sulfur.
These reflect the sun, so when it shot into the atmosphere, it tied together with clouds to prevent heat and daylight from reaching the earth.
The darkness lasted two years, and it was this and the effect it had on food sources that led to the great extinction, not the asteroid itself.
Mr Walsh said Space.com: & # 39; Ssomething like asteroids: there is a reason why we make films about that. There is something cinematic about the idea that something is coming out of space and locking you up and destroying the world. & # 39;
But the journalist assures that extinction led by asteroids is one that may now be excluded.
The large rocks can be followed for years before they hit the earth, giving astronomers the chance to develop a defense plan.
The US government last year put forward plans to protect the planet from incoming asteroids that could destroy entire regions & even continents.
The National Science and Technology Council released a 20-page report on June 21 calling for improved asteroid detection, tracking and deflection.
The initiative supported by NASA, Federal Emergency Officers and the White House aimed to coordinate efforts over the next decade to identify and respond to potential threats in the Earth's environment should they occur.
Near-Earth objects (NEO & # 39; s) include all asteroids and comets that orbit within a 30 million-mile radius of the Earth, NASA said.
For the time being, scientists know that no asteroids or comets are coming at us. But you could sneak up on us – and that's why the government has introduced a better plan.
The threat of climate change has gripped the world in recent months, whether it is Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg or the widespread forest fires that flooded the Amazon region last month.
But Mr Walsh does not think that it is just as likely to die out as biotechnology and other man-made problems.
& # 39; I don't think it is likely to be an existential threat in my opinion, & # 39; he says, & # 39; it will make the world a very difficult place, a very difficult place, but probably not kill us all that way. & # 39;
The threat of climate change has gripped the world in recent months, whether it is the Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg or the widespread forest fires that flooded the Amazon in the last month (photo). But Mr Walsh does not think that it is just as likely to die out as biotechnology and other man-made problems
Mr Walsh's background lies in the report on climate change and he believes that the attention that has been given to the subject in recent months has been framed in the wrong way.
Now that he has researched it, he finds the argument that climate change might end our planet in just a matter of years is perhaps flawed.
When he attended climate conferences, he also noted that world leaders and ordinary people were not willing to act and limit their energy consumption.
He says in the book: & # 39; We are not a species that plans deep into the future. We are not a species that wants to set limits. We are a species that prefers to stay one step ahead of the disasters that we create ourselves, willing to do just enough to continue. & # 39;
He added Vox: & # 39; I think we have more time, but it is something we should think about on large-scale techno solutions, because I don't really have much faith in humanity's ability to struggle with something that is a risk that always be for the future. & # 39;
Infectious diseases in themselves would most likely not threaten our species, and their severity is also rated low by Mr. Walsh.
& # 39; It's probably low because we often see nature's threat. You take something like Ebola that is deadly but does not spread very quickly & he says.
& # 39; Or something like cold or measles that spreads very quickly but doesn't kill you. & # 39;
He adds: & # 39; So this requires biotechnology to put together something that both could do and that would be what you needed to threaten the whole species. & # 39;
Infectious diseases in themselves would most likely not threaten our species, and their severity is also rated low by Mr. Walsh. & # 39; It's probably low because we often see nature's threat. You take something like Ebola (photo) that is deadly, but doesn't spread very quickly & he says
It is the only existential threat written about in End Times that the journalist said he had actually witnessed.
Facing the deadly SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) while working in Hong Kong in 2003, he saw how a disease could appear out of the blue and destroy a community.
But he said he heard that there was always a timer for infectious diseases, disappearing into the dark as quickly as they arrived.
This is due to higher hygiene in the twenty-first century and tends to promote milder diseases that can spread quickly.
In one example, Mr. Walsh said: & # 39; Unless it happens to occur in an environment as extreme and rare as a trench from the First World War, a flu virus that kills in one day is limited in its ability to spread, and lose so milder version so that you only wish you were dead. & # 39;
- End Times: A Short Guide To The End Of The World by Bryan Walsh is available at Hachette Books
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