The Null Device

These are the ways the world ends

In Charlie Stross's blog, a cheerful and fascinating discussion about speculated existential threats to civilisation, the human race, life on Earth, or the universe itself. These vary from plausible ones (ecological collapse, killer viruses, killer asteroids) to the far-fetched and surreal:
What would be the implications of trying to return from an iron age technology now given the amount of "low hanging fruit" in the way of natural resources we've mined in the last two hundred years or so? I'm particularly, but not solely, thinking that there aren't many places now where you just make a hole and oil bubbles out of the ground - you now need a sophisticated technologically adept mining operation just to get to the stuff. How are we doing for easily available iron ore that could be got at by an iron-age civilisation? Or is it so abundant that that will never be a problem.
[U]ploading is likely to start out being an experimental process which is destructive of the original brain and have a fairly high chance of failure. So who's going to be the first person uploaded? I'd say chances are good it'll be a condemned Chinese prisoner... so that process might result in a fairly hostile machine intelligence. If they escape? No rapture of the nerds for anyone.
[M]aybe a copper eating bacteria would be a better idea. They would first spread on the surface of cables across the world, not causing any massive consequences. Then they would start eating *into* the wires...
A simple party trick, maybe outgrown from all those neuropsych tests that disprove free will. Something easy to do and apparently harmless "Look when you do X you can't/have to do Y" but which unavoidably sinks in and leads to existential nihilism as the implications percolate.
A fad toy that expands in water goes down drains in such numbers that sewerage systems collapse on a scale never seen. The resulting public health debacle cascades due to massive shortfalls in public infrastructure spending during the 2010's and 2020's.
To paraphrase and build upon Arthur C Clarke's famous remark. "Any advanced technology [we no longer understand] is indistingushable from magic"... Going further, there may come a day when we forget we once built this stuff. Maybe theres a potential fictional work in this, a far far future fantasy story where the "magic" starts to break down across the kingdom andstop working, magic incantations no longer work predictably (voice commands throw errors or are ignored), creatures conjured up of dust disintegrate into powder (nanobots fail to hold form). Cauldrons no longer produce magic when ingredients added (Cornucopia nano-fabricators no longer accept feedstock matter). All because it's been a thousand years since anyone understood how these machines work. user-pic

There are 2 comments on "These are the ways the world ends":

Posted by: datakid pineappledonut.org Thu Jun 30 22:33:34 2011

I don't know what planet Stross is living on, but "massive shortfalls in public infrastructure spending" have been a reality since at least the 1980s afaict

Posted by: datakid pineappledonut.org Thu Jun 30 22:44:56 2011

Also, in regards to the last listed - the Arthur C Clark reference, I would point you to the quite enjoyable movie Idiocracy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiocracy

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