AI armageddon threat Square

So, really, which armageddon should we prepare for?

THE CURRENT ‘heatwaves’ have highlighted the threat to the world and humanity from global warming and climate change, enabling the media to produce frightening reports and headlines, mostly about our use of fossil fuels.

In a  recent article in The Economist, however, entitled What are the chances of an AI apocalypse?  – listing the top five “existential risks” or “doomsday threats” that could, by 2100, cause a catastrophe (defined as something that kills 10 per cent of humans within five  years of it happening) or extinction of mankind (death of all but 5,000 individuals) naturally occurring “non-anthropogenic” – global warming trails a very distant fifth – and man-made global warming doesn’t figure at all.

In the source report, entitled “Forecasting Existential Risks:Evidence from a long-running forecasting tournament” collated from  the input of “superforecasters “ and domain experts Artificial Intelligence (AI) topped the “catastrophe” list with domain experts  assessing a 12 per cent chance and superforecasters  giving it 2 per cent, followed by Nuclear (8 per cent and 4 per cent),engineered pathogens (biological weapons, 3 per cent and 1 per cent), and natural pathogens , for example Covid, (1 per cent). Last on the list of five was “non-anthropogenic” (climate change not caused by humans) with a 0.09 per cent risk.

The table (below) for extinction of humanity has a similar order, with lower risks. AI is still at the top (3 per cent and 0.04 per cent) and non-anthropogenic at the bottom (0.004 per cent)

This means AI is, according to domain experts 133 times more likely to cause a global disaster than naturally occurring climate change and 750 times more likely to cause extinction.

The report does not mention man-made global warming so I assume the authors think it’s less risky than the naturally occurring non-anthropogenic variety.  

This seems to be the view  of an excellent Vox article on the topic, entitled “An unusual way to figure out if humanity is toast”, which quotes  the authors thus, “…in pilot interviews climate experts told us they would place an extremely low probability on extinction risk from climate change.”

I also read an article on Statista, the data analysis service, which says: “the global temperature increase is estimated to reach a median of 2.7 degrees Celsius in 2100. In the best-case scenario, where all announced net-zero targets, long-term targets, and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are fully implemented, the global temperature is still expected to rise by 1.8 degrees Celsius, when compared to the pre-industrial average.”

In other words, irrespective of human efforts, two thirds of climate change ie temperature rise, will be “non-anthropogenic”, which means  not caused by, and can’t be controlled by, mankind – therefore it will happen anyway.

If that’s the case shouldn’t we be paying  more attention to an excellent report by the OECD entitled “Strenghtening resilience for a changing climate ?

It discusses issues such as coastal erosion, floods, wind, water supply, the impact of drought on famine, loss of arable land in the south and dealing with the inevitable mass migration to more temperate countries?

To pick one local example, should almost £200m be invested in the Acorn carbon capture project, whose commercial viability is very much in doubt, or used  to augment the £1bn the UK government spends annually on flood and coastal erosion risk management which it says can, “protect hundreds of thousands more properties as well as avoid £32 billion of wider economic damages”.

And where does all this leave Patrick Harvie’s  plan to somehow find and spend £33bn on replacing our current heating systems?

Or, looking at the bigger picture, should we do anything if Artificial Intelligence is 750 times more likely to wipe us out by 2100 anyway?

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Image of an AI android holding the world in its hands by wetzkaz from Adobe Stock

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