Global Post: In the daily hubbub of current “crises” facing humanity, we forget about the many generations we hope are yet to come. Not those who will live 200 years from now, but 1,000 or 10,000 years from now. I use the word “hope” because we face risks, called existential risks, that threaten to wipe out humanity. These risks are not just for big disasters, but for the disasters that could end history.
Not everyone has ignored the long future, though. Mystics like Nostradamus have regularly tried to calculate the end of the world. H.G. Wells tried to develop a science of forecasting and famously depicted the far future of humanity in his book “The Time Machine.” Other writers built other long-term futures to warn, amuse or speculate.
But had these pioneers or futurologists not thought about humanity’s future, it would not have changed the outcome. There wasn’t much that human beings in their place could have done to save us from an existential crisis or even cause one.
We are in a more privileged position today. Human activity has been steadily shaping the future of our planet. And even though we are far from controlling natural disasters, we are developing technologies that may help mitigate, or at least deal, with them.
Yet these risks remain understudied. There is a sense of powerlessness and fatalism about them. People have been talking apocalypses for millennia, but few have tried to prevent them. Humans are also bad at doing anything about problems that have not occurred yet (partially because of theavailability heuristic – the tendency to overestimate the probability of events we know examples of, and underestimate events we cannot readily recall).