Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Why Stephen Hawking's "Insane" Predictions From Last Year Are Still Valid (Part 2)

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"Hmmm....I don't trust this guy with nuclear weapons any more than I'd trust Hitler!"

n Stephen Hawking's words, from the new BBC documentary: "Although the chance of a disaster on planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, becoming a near certainty in the next thousand or ten thousand years,”

Note here that Hawking isn't referring to the "law of large numbers", i.e. where one finds an evening out of probability - say for ten thousands coin tosses reaching a ratio of 1 to 1 for heads to tails. He is rather referencing the probability that as time goes on the chance of a natural or man-made cluster fuck will occur.  The asteroids are going to keep coming , for example, for the next hundred, thousand or more years. It's only a matter of time before one with our name on it impacts, as it intersects our orbit.  By the same token as nuclear proliferation continues, it's only a matter of time before some nation with nukes feels threatened enough to use them, or pushes the "button" on entering a fray with a neighbor.

With that in mind, we now consider the other major extinction threats Hawking has proposed:

3) Nuclear Holocaust:

This extinction event is considered 3rd  in order but it is actually much more probable than a killer (Torino  9) asteroid strike, and certainly quicker than climate change as a major species snuffer.  Some latter day wonks have tried to put the spin on such a cataclysm that "only 300 to 500 million" will perish, but that's assuming no all out nuclear war. If the latter occurs, more than 10,000 nuclear warheads in the 500 kt to double megaton range will be released and even if 500 million survive the first strikes and blasts, the rest of us will be done in by the radiation.  And no, you won't survive living in an underground bunker unless you plan to stay there hundreds of years.   For all intents the planet will be a radioactive wasteland.

How will it start, or why? I already referenced in my previous post (Trump's grade for 2017) the words of 'Art of the Deal' ghost writer Michael T. Schwarz in the anthology 'The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump':

"His amygdala is repeatedly triggered...and his prefrontal cortex - the part of the brain that makes us capable of rationality and reflection - shuts down. He reacts rather than reflects - and damn the consequences.  This is what makes his access to the nuclear codes so dangerous and frightening."

It is truly frightening!  It means his brain is more wired to react on the reptile than the reflective level and it puts us all in peril. This is a character, literally, who believes HE is more important than all of humanity.

Political media specialist Ezra Klein, in an appearance on MSNBC last Friday night warned, in the context of why an urgent impeachment may be needed:

"We are in this strange position where we are running a nuclear hyper power. The President of the United States is the most dangerous job in the world. The president who is the wrong person....the extent of what can go wrong there....goes all the way over to nuclear holocaust - which could be launched more or less before breakfast. And this is the only job we can think of where incredibly poor performance cannot get you fired. There is something wrong in that.?"

Of course, Klein is absolutely correct because the lives of billions now hang in the balance, waiting to be snuffed out over one reckless decision by an unqualified loon with 7500 nuclear warheads at his disposal.

In the book, 'The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump' clinical psychologist  Michael J. Tansey informs us (p. 121):

"Although there are several areas in which DT's particular version of personality disorder is vital to understand, none is more compelling or terrifying than his control of the nuclear codes.  Surpassing the devastation of climate, health care, education, diplomacy, social services, freedom of speech, and liberty and justice for all, nothing is more incomprehensible than the now plausible prospect of an all -out nuclear war.

For all but the few remaining survivors who witnessed the atomic bombing of Japan and its aftermath we simply have nothing in our own experiences to imagine the instantaneous annihilation. Quite literally we are here one second and vaporized the next along with everyone and everything."

Let me pause here to interject that although none of us except the Japanese survivors have experienced an atomic attack, you can get a very good inkling of what happens to humans by watching it in this clip from the movie 'Threads', e.g.
Tansey again (ibid.):

"Because of this very real existential threat, it is absolutely urgent that we comprehend the titanic differences between a president who is merely 'crazy like a fox' versus one I have termed crazy like crazy (possessing core grandiose and paranoid delusions disconnected from factual reality."

In Tansey's take Trump is "crazy like crazy".   A nuclear holocaust under Trump? This is likely to happen if the Dotard's minders are unable to control his worst, most degenerate impulses after he loses it - maybe in a twitter war with Kim Jong Un ("My nuclear button is bigger than yours, Kim!") Who knows?  Stephen Hawking, no fan of Trump's,  is also worried about this scenario and clearly the reason the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has advanced the nuclear holocaust clock by 30 seconds closer to midnight, i.e. because Trump is in control of the nuclear football.  Most ominously,  as recently as three months ago, Sen. Bob Corker warned that Trump’s rhetoric and threats, especially toward North Korea, could set the nation “on the path to World War III”.  

According to sources in the WH cited by journalist Gabe Sherman at the time, Trump grew so on edge he was  "just itching to launch World War III"  to burn all his critics one time as well as the putative enemy Kim Jong Un who he belittled as "little rocket man".

But this is the nature of an unhinged asshole who has no business running a dog pound or landfill much less run a country.   As conservative columnist George Will  ("Last Word", Dec, 29th) put it, "Donald Trump is incapable of sequential thought which in itself is very disturbing".

By "sequential thought" Will meant a person is capable of following a logical thread, of cause and effect, e.g. A -> B -> C etc.   By contrast to rigorous sequential thought, Dotard's mind wanders all over the place, "like a little drunken tweety bird scavenging in all directions for  crumbs" in the words of MSNBC anchor Joy Reid. 

As if to put an exclamation point on the whole issue, former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  Admiral Michael Mullen, said over the weekend:

 "We are actually closer to a nuclear war with North Korea, in my view,  than we've ever been and I just don't see the opportunity to solve this diplomatically."

No nonsense words from a guy who ought to know.

4) Pandemic that kills most humans:

This may be a lot closer to realization than many believe thanks to the Trumpies recently allowing Bird flu research toward higher contagion. This thrust began in 2011 with a Dutch virologist -  Ron Fouchier  -accused of engineering a dangerous superflu . In 2011, Fouchier and his team at Erasmus Medical Center took the H5N1 flu virus and made it more contagious.

Back in April  the team published another study with more details on the exact genetic changes needed to do the trick. The H5N1 bird flu is known to have sickened 650 people worldwide, and of those, 386 died. 

Fouchier's work, plus some similar research from another lab, showed for the first time that the virus had the potential to change in a way that would make it a real pandemic threat. Only a few mutations were necessary to make the H5N1 bird flu spread through the air between ferrets, the lab stand-in for people.

Critics argued that the scientists had created a dangerous new superflu and they pushed for the recipe not to be openly published. They feared that others would repeat the work and either not adequately safeguard the virus or would deliberately release it. After a long debate about security versus scientific openness, the research findings did finally appear in a journal.

In April, in the journal Cell, Fouchier and his colleagues expand on that initial work. They identified five mutations that are sufficient to make H5N1 spread through the air between ferrets. Fouchier  wrote in one email:

"Two mutations enable improved binding of the H5N1 bird flu virus to cells in the upper respiratory tract of mammals. Another mutation increases the stability of the virus. The two remaining mutations enable the virus to replicate more efficiently."

Before Fouchier and his colleagues published the current work, it underwent multiple layers of review to assess the level of danger it might pose to the public. The team had to get an export license from the Dutch government that normally applies to technology that can be weaponized. The paper was also reviewed by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funded the research.

Fouchier's justification is straight out of the sci-fi horror flicks where a deadly virus escapes a gov't lab and reduces humanity by the billions - as in one Outer Limits series of episodes from the 90s. According to him, the research is needed to see how a pandemic which spreads airborne mammal to mammal might be stopped. So, if we know how to spread it airborne we will know how to stop it. Amplifying further Fouchier wrote back in April:

"That does not mean that we have reached general consensus about the need to do this type of work, and how to do it safely.  But general consensus will be impossible to reach on any topic. We will keep the dialogues going with everyone, but at the same time need to continue this important line of work."

Not everyone agrees with that. "I still don't understand why such a risky approach must be taken," says microbiologist David Relman of Stanford University. "I'm discouraged."

Relman served on a government advisory committee that considered whether this research should be openly published. He questions whether these studies really will help give public health officials advance warning of the next emerging flu pandemic.

What's more recently distressing is the Trump administration has recently lifted a ban on making the flu more deadly. See e.g.



"The new National Institutes of Health policy reverses a 2014 Obama administration funding ban on gain-of-function research projects specifically involving all forms of the influenza virus, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The new rules would extend beyond those viruses, “apply[ing] to any pathogen that could potentially cause a pandemic,” according to the New York Times. “For example, they would apply to a request to create an Ebola virus transmissible through the air.

The preceding information - which has been in the relevant journals (and some news sources) for at least the past 6 years- leave little doubt that we are at risk of a major superflu pandemic if things go south. And that can indeed happen because, well, mistakes can happen.  As occurred several years ago when CDC workers were exposed to anthrax and other viruses by accident.( In 2014, a laboratory mistake at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta potentially exposed a technician to the deadly Ebola virus. The technician was subsequently  monitored for signs of infection for 21 days, the incubation period of the disease. Fortunately, he was cleared, but things might not have worked out and may indeed, not work out if a jazzed up Avian flu virus is accidentally released.  Word of the  accident at CDC later provoked concern and disbelief from some safety experts. Dangerous samples of anthrax and flu were similarly mishandled at the C.D.C.)

If partial or total human extinction by way of viral pandemic does occur, you may be sure it will be because of lab mishandling or creation of a weaponized variation.

5) Artificial intelligence replacing humans altogether

This one is based on a comment Hawking made to WIRED magazine, e.g.:
"I fear that AI may replace humans altogether. If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that improves and replicates itself."

But, on discussing this with Alan Emtage (the creator of the original search engine, "Archie") in Barbados last April, he pooh-poohed it.  He said the vastly greater threat of AI is to human employment, and cited AI systems now displacing financial workers, and taking over most repetitive jobs. He asserted it's just a matter of time, "maybe ten years", before most retail human jobs are gone, as well as taxi drivers, bus drivers and other driving jobs - replaced by driverless, AI-directed vehicles.   The danger then isn't AI per se, but all those millions of idle humans with nothing to do and no paychecks coming in.  Look at the current violent riots in Iran over food prices and multiply that by about 1000 times in frequency and intensity on a global scale to see what we may be in for. 

It's the perfect recipe for terror, civil unrest and even wars." according to Emtage.  His solution is to set up the UBI (universal basic income)  financial structure from now, and not wait until after the crisis erupts.

See also:


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