“With great power comes great responsibility.” Bad Engineers read this!!!
This line from the movie Spiderman applies so well to the real-life heroes including engineers and scientists. It should be our ultimate mantra as catalysts in making the world a better place, and should be the guiding principle that binds us to the mandate of exploring and developing products, systems, and structures.
But also in the real world, there’s a great risk that these professionals might have ill intentions. The jobs can fall to the wrong hands that might wreak havoc. If it is possible to create and design technologies that improve the way we live, it is also possible to make those which can destroy us.
Listed below are ways that engineers could end the world. This is not suggestive or a scare, but merely an awareness on how powerful engineers are and what we can do when we lose our morals and sense of responsibility.
Artificial General Intelligence
One of the biggest threats to humankind could be the emergence of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), being independent thinkers out of a conscious artificial construct. They are machines or software that work like the human mind, perhaps even better. The main concern about this technology is security – and University of Cambridge is on top of it with their Center for the Study of Existential Risk.
When AGI has limited intellectual capacity, that is where the trouble comes in. It translates to human as small-mindedness or selfishness – when there is incapability of thinking about other possibilities, they think superior of themselves, no matter how intelligent the opposing reasons are to them. The same is true for AGI, who, when being selfish, can only think upon themselves without judgment.
But there’s a great upside to this technology: once AGI is significantly more intelligent than human beings, the rate of human evolution will rapidly accelerate. The world will be mostly incomprehensible and unpredictable, which will mark the next stage of our evolution, including the exploration of the universe, our existence, our creator, and even become gods of our own. Imagine the power in that.
Chief of Engineering at Google Ray Kurzweil predicted that the first AGI will be operational before 2030. There is still no assurance that we are safe until then, though.
Nanotechnology deals with technologies and materials that are typically 50 thousand times smaller than the width of a strand of hair, or 2 nanometers, which is the width of a strand of hair. This can revolutionize cure to illness, aging, and power generation.
But once this technology will be misused, they can impose threats. These can be programmed to perform attacks in metals, water, internal organs, or specific DNA sequences once they are in the brain. It can trigger an ability to form biological and chemical weaponry.
Worse is going to the Gray Goo problem. Gray Goo is basically ‘runaway nanobots,’ a swarm of rapidly self-replicating nanobots which can go gaga with a single typo in their codes. If these nanobots cannot be detected and disabled, they can infiltrate through the human body and convert us into a mass of metal sludge. This goes on from one person to another until the whole planet is just dead humans who are useless metals.
Prince Charles had warned the Royal Society to consider this risk in 2003 but he was mocked for it. Even nanotechnologist Chris Phoenix discredits the idea, confident that this will not happen by accident but only as the product of a deliberate and difficult engineering process.
Are we going to trust the well-respected nanotechnologist on this one? Hmmm.
Biotechnology has its greatest impacts in health care. It covers genetic therapy, which is being devised to create cures for cystic fibrosis, AIDs and cancer; it also has telomerase gene therapy that once fully developed, can lead to indefinite lifespans.
If biotechnology can cure diseases, it can also potentially create diseases that we can no longer find cure for. It can engineer sicknesses that are contagious and airborne, even with long life spans and strong resistance to antiobiotics. The scariest parts are its ability to destroy human reproduction, its ability to blind everybody, or a specific ethnic group or a certain gender. It can also change genetics, which in turn can potentially make the science-fiction zombies.
A zombie apocalypse generated from biotechnology? It only sounds cool for a movie.
Small-scale atomic bombs are now under tests that can destroy a relatively small area, but there could be somebody out there, a suicidal, psychotic engineer or scientist, who is already working with an atomic bomb which would consume the Earth by his working knowledge in explosives.
The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider, was believed to create a black hole upon its first boot, eating up the entire humankind. But apparently it was a ridiculous suggestion.
With the consequences of producing technologies and innovation, our Mother Earth has become sickly. Survival has become difficult to humans and animals who face more frequent and intense drought, storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and warming oceans. This is popularly called climate change.
Doomsday for us might not occur in a snap of a hand, but of a slow death that we see before our eyes. There is little to nothing that we can do about it this growing problem and severe phenomenon.