The Economist: Will humans wipe out humanity?

04 January 2019

The Economist interviewed Lord Martin Rees:

"The importance of science in society has no greater spokesperson than Lord Martin Rees. From his perch at Cambridge—and a centre he formed on studying existential risks—he has served as both a promoter, populariser and the moral conscience of scientific endeavour far beyond his academic field of astrophysics.

In “Our Final Century” in 2003 (retitled more breathlessly “Our Final Hour” in the American edition) he presented a range of global challenges, from bioterrorism to nuclear weapons. He put the risk of human extinction by 2100 from our technologies at around 50%. His latest book, “On the Future”, is more sanguine. It acknowledges similar threats, but emphasises the beneficial ways that technologies will improve lives, notably the positive uses of artificial intelligence.

The Economist’s Open Future initiative asked Mr Rees questions about humanity, space aliens and scientific discovery. In particular, we pressed him on how humanity might need to prepare mentally and institutionally for contact with extraterrestrial life forms (a reframing of liberalism on a galactic scale). He took a sober tack. Though he believes other life forms may indeed exist, they may be so different to us as to be incomprehensible. “I certainly don’t expect an invasion by green bipeds with eyes on stalks,” he says. Following the interview is an excerpt on existential risks from his latest book."

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