Humanity is (still) at risk of extinction

09 November 2017

(Translated from the original Spanish)

Humanity being extinguished or suffering a great collapse in the 21st century is a real risk. The probability is small, of course, but it exists. So it's best to work to reduce risks, says Seán Ó HÉigeartaigh , executive director of the  Center for the Study of Existential Risk  (CSER) at the University of Cambridge. Ó hÉigeartaigh participated this morning in an event organized in Barcelona by  BBVA and EL PERIÓDICO to present the book The next step: exponential life, a collective work of 20 international experts on the risks and opportunities of emerging technologies.

Ó HÉigeartaigh explains a little-known example:  Stanislav Petrov , a lieutenant-colonel in the Red Army, who died almost anonymously, in 1983 avoided a possible  nuclear war  between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Thanks to his instinct and decision, he determined that the arrival of dangerous American missiles, as indicated by the defense radar, could not be real. The counterattack was stopped. "Thanks to a person who saw the error, the conflict did not come," says Ó HÉigeartaigh. In the end, the false signal turned out to be the reflection of the Sun in some clouds. Nuclear war also hung in the balance in Cuba's missile crisis.

"We have been very lucky, and if there were different people, things would have ended differently," admits the executive director of CSER. The Centre, founded among others by the prestigious astronomer Martin Rees, analyzes the risks facing and that will face human civilization in times to come. "You do not sign an insurance policy because you think your house is going to burn, but because you think it reasonable to be prepared," he says.

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