Final CONvergence: Doomsday Scenarios
The second panel that I attended this weekend was made up of five people with backgrounds in physics, biology, technology, nuclear proliferation and mathematical modeling of infectious diseases.
The physicist discussed asteroids. He explained how small meteorites are entering our atmosphere all the time, mentioned NASA’s Near Earth Object program, and spoke briefly about the Torino Scale. Later he pondered the effect that a large solar flare ejected in the direction of Earth might have on our population.
The biologist spoke about how it wasn’t the asteroid that would kill us, but the aftermath of the impact that would be Homo sapiens final end: habitat and environmental destruction, disruption of social organization (no more grocery stores or hospitals), and disease. He also discussed the Extinction Vortex, a cycle of decreasing population leading to less genetic variability, leading to less ability to adapt to environmental and genetic stressors, and ending with species extinction. Later in the panel he also spoke about speciation and the example of Homo erectus, a stable and successful species that over time was replaced by Homo sapiens. My favorite quote of the panel came from that discussion:
“I’m sure that Homo erectus watched Homo sapiens arise and thought, ‘Wow. What a bunch of assholes.'”
The technology guy discussed the downsides of the Singularity – the idea that we will create greater-than-human intelligence. He talked about the potential for exponential, uncontrolled growth of self-replicating nanites, should they ever be created. Later in the night the panelists discussed more applicable technological destruction – EMPs and/or the sudden loss of the internet and its effect on economy and cultural heritage (think of all we’d lose that’s in the cloud!)
The nuclear proliferation guy brought up the belief of some people that we’ve moved past the cold-war era likelihood of nuclear annihilation, and then proceeded to burst that bubble. He discussed how both Russia and the US remain on high alert, and that compared to Iran, Pakistan and India, the threat from North Korea shouldn’t scare us at all. The point was, nuclear war is not off the table, and could be our final undoing.
And the infection disease modeling guy brought up zombies. Finally, the zombies! This gentleman had written about how the spread of zombie-ism could be used as a decent model for infection, transmission and stopping the spread of disease. He advised destroying zombies as quickly as possible in the case of an outbreak, or risk the collapse of civilization. He asked us to consider which weapons we’d chose, how to fight, whether to attempt to flee or stay our ground. He also brought up an interesting idea that the type of person most likely to survive would be the psychopath who would be willing to sacrifice their friends, family and neighbors to survive against all odds. This discussion led to all of the zombie “what ifs” that one might expect at a scifi/fantasy convention full of zombie lore aficionados.