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The Greatest Long-Term Threats Facing Humanity

Blog Entry by Michael Ulrich: A review of the Perspective Article by Dr. Anders Sandberg

It is no surprise that many of us are interested in mind uploading because of the idea of gaining immortality. Even if we don't want to admit it, the desire to keep experiencing the world long after our original bodies can sustain our mind is a reasonable purpose for dedicating a life of research to achieving Whole Brain Emulation. Aside from individual life-extension, humanity itself must face challenges to survive long into the distant future. Even if we get to the point where we become machines, humanity surviving indefinitely will always have it's challenges. In his article about the future challenges that humanity must face to survive, Dr. Anders Sandberg explores 6 main stages of the future's greatest threats to the continuation of humanity as well as some hopeful solutions to counter those threats.

Our Imminent Demise

The first great challenge that humanity must overcome is the ability to survive longer than the typical mammalian species. Aside from risks caused by humanity such as nuclear war or bio-engineered plagues, there is the fact that the earth is constantly going through climate cycles. Ice ages occur on Earth in intervals due to the alterations in which the Earth's axis tilts over millions of years. Other natural disasters that have happened in Earth’s history are still likely to happen again such as meteor impacts, volcanic eruptions, or ecological disruptions. To survive the first great threat, humanity must evolve into something unlike it's current mammalian state. Becoming machines and merging with AI through Whole Brain Emulation is an obvious solution.

The second great threat will be when the biosphere of the Earth can no longer function. In about one billion years the sun's brightness intensity will cause the Earth to become too hot to support life naturally. The increasing heat will cause a runaway greenhouse effect with carbon dioxide releasing and killing plant life. More water will evaporate from the oceans making the atmosphere hotter. It would be a monumental engineering task to alter the effects of the biosphere such as a giant solar shade. It would make much more sense to sustain human life in space and leave our home planet. Sustaining human life in space-faring vessels has been proven to be practical for several months; and artificial gravity will expand that time. We have one billion years to make sure we can do that when this second great threat arrives. Again, merging with machines will make this much easier. The ability for the mind to survive hostile environments in a machine vessel is a great advantage for Whole Brain Emulation. Long-term space travel will be made eventual will the realization of Whole Brain Emulation.

What Risks Do We Face If We Survive?

The third great threat will be surviving the end of the sun's main sequence lifetime. Anyone who has studied astronomy knows very well that the sun will not be there forever to support the earth regardless of how well the ecosystem has been maintained. Humanity will have to move off our home world at some point and the sun becoming a red giant is our final deadline. The sun's lifetime is determined by the elements it has to burn. In about 5 billion years from now, the sun will run out of hydrogen and start burning helium. This is when it will expand far past the edge of the solar system as a red giant completely swallowing the earth. When this point comes, we will have to find a new solar system. Spacecraft that can support human life for multiple millennia will be needed for this journey.

The End of the Universe

The fourth great threat is expected to come in about 100 trillion years when all stars in the universe die and fade. It has been observed that star formation has already hit its peak and has begun to decline. As the stars go through their life cycles they will all eventually die and will no longer be sources of energy. This means that humanity will have to find alternative energy sources to starlight. Some solutions proposed in the article include fusion using brown dwarfs and gas giants or black hole radiation. Without isotopes produced by star formation, fission power will ultimately no longer be available. It is possible that humanity will need to evolve to a point where we no longer need enormous amounts of energy and can survive in sub-zero temperatures.

When Stars Collide

The fifth great threat is more of a larger aspect of the fourth threat. As galaxies spin and collide with each other they will all eventually cease spinning. The problem with this is keeping the surviving stars and planets in those galaxies from collapsing into the galaxy center's black holes. If all those stars and planets are consumed by the black holes we lose our resources. The article proposes that altering the movements of the spinning stars could be achieved with something like radiation reflectors as used on the Voyager spacecraft. While feats of engineering this extravagant seem impossible in this era, it might be a part of everyday life for our evolved states at this point.

The sixth great threat to the survival of humanity is something even Whole Brain Emulation can't solve by itself. It is the end of matter. While the theory has not been proven, some theories argue that protons in atoms are not eternally stable. If protons eventually decay, in trillions of years, the only things left in the universe will be radiation and black holes. As of now, there is no solution to this problem.

What Does Whole Brain Emulation Solve?

While achieving Whole Brain Emulation will get us much further ahead in the game of survival, we still need to find better means of evolving to higher and higher forms. It will be a constant effort throughout time for humanity to keep its presence on the universal stage. Those alive today are on the cusp of transcending our animal lives and merging with machines. While improbable, it is not impossible that someone alive today may have the chance to face all 6 great threats in their life.

Getting to a point where humanity can just relax for eternity and never worry about death may never come. However, facing an eternal challenge to defy death might just be what makes living forever all the more worthwhile.

For further information please see Dr. Sandberg's full article posted on The Greatest Long-Term Threats Facing Humanity