What Do You Think Will Be the Doom of Civilisation?

By Meg Neal on at

It's probably true that every generation thinks it'll be the last—I mean, the Doomsday Clock has been ticking since 1947. And though earlier today I accused millennials of being the "generation that cried apocalypse," I fully admit there are some damn legit reasons for that cry currently brewing.

report out this week from the Global Challenges Foundation lists 12 reasons, to be precise—a dozen risks that threaten human civilisation. And sure enough all of the three "emerging risks" finger developing tech: AI, nanotech, and synthetic biology. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' Doomsday Clock was also recently updated to include digital risks for the first time—AI and hacking—and it even sadly bumped the ETA for our impending demise up three minutes.

It's all terrifying and fascinating and tempting to fetishise, and as my colleague pointed out, reflects any normal luddite reaction to a new technology that comes along and threatens the safe and familiar status quo. But, not to be morbid or anything, I'm also legitimately, really curious what will ultimately be the source of society's downfall—imminent or otherwise.

The report lays out a few futuristic scenarios: Will manipulating biology lead to new era of bio-warfare? Will self-replicating nanotech let us effortlessly manufacture an arsenal of tiny nuclear weapons? Will superintelligent AI decide to create a world without humans? I'm curious what you think: Which dystopian future should we really fear?

Illustration by Tara Jacoby