History of Awareness of Humankind Extinction Threats

If you want to understand just how slowly humankind has responded to existential threats, and how difficult it is to get serious attention and care about this issue, then this section is for you.

This section may also convey to you my extreme frustration over the years ...

The first nuclear weapons are used in war, to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Some people start to worry about how advancing technology could threaten humankind globally.

Albert Einstein and some scientists from the Manhattan Project (which created the first nuclear weapons) created the "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists", a nonprofit organization, immediately after the first nuclear bombs were used. The purpose is to inform the public about scientific advances as they affect human security issues, and to promote discussion to try to maintain peace and security. This remains a leading organization up to current times, more than 75 years later.
The well known "Doomsday Clock" is started by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It “conveys how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction – the figurative midnight – and monitors the means humankind could use to obliterate itself.” It states this as minutes before midnight, which have moved back and forth over time depending upon the current situation. It started at 7 minutes before midnight. It went backwards as far as 17 minutes in 1991 during the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the closest is 1 minute and 30 seconds in January 2023. (reference: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

Famous Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi ("architect of the atomic bomb", after being creator of the world's first nuclear reactor as a member of the Manhattan Project) was having informal discussions with Edward Teller ("the father of the hydrogen bomb") and others asking why there was no evidence of any extraterrestrial civilizations. As astronomers and scientists became more aware of the vast size of the Universe, it seemed very unusual that there was no observation of other intelligent life. This became known as "The Fermi Paradox" -- there should be a very large number of intelligent civilizations out there, but we have not detected any of them nor have they visited us and made their presence apparent, so why this paradoxical situation?

The first hydrogen bomb is exploded in a test range on an island in the Pacific Ocean by the U.S. government. (The hydrogen bomb design is far more powerful than the fission type atomic bomb used in World War 2. The island was obliterated by the bomb so it no longer exists, whereby the bomb created a crater under the water there.)

In the journal Nature, physicists Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison published an article "Searching for Interstellar Communications" arguing that radio telescopes had already become sensitive enough to detect transmissions from extraterrestrial civilizations beyond our solar system. (Notably, Nature is a weekly publication, and I was born during the week of this issue, which tells you the age of the author of this website, that I grew up around the beginning of the space age, and a lot about my generational experiences and outlook.)

In response to the above article, Dr. Frank Drake became the first person to start a systematic search for those radio transmissions from possible extraterrestrial civilizations, using a 25 meter radio dish in West Virginia.

Dr. Drake organized a meeting of 10 selected scientists to discuss the issues of trying to detect extraterrestrial civilizations, over two days. One of those people invited and participating was an astronomer by the name of Dr. Carl Sagan (mentioned later in this article). At the meeting, Dr. Drake presented an equation to estimate the number of technological civilizations, based on the number of stars, planets capable of developing life, then intelligent life ... whereby anybody can put in their own estimates and see the results. It's all speculative. This is called "The Drake Equation".

The USA lands 6 human missions to the Moon (the Apollo program), a total of 12 people, then terminates interest, having won "the space race" with the Soviet Union, for prestige. The Soviet Union has started decaying due to centralized corruption. NASA returns to nearly pure science.

The human development of outer space was started because of military competition between the USA and the USSR. It was the intercontinental ballistic space race which initially drove the space race, and then became military applications of satellites around Earth, and space technologies in general. Commercial applications followed later, based on military developments. This raises the question of whether humans would even have a chance of survival, by the race of space settlement vs. a synthetic biology extinction event, if the USA-USSR military arms race had not started the outer space race? Biotechnology and synthetic biology were sure to arise commercially, but outer space development is a much bigger challenge.

The topic of space settlement using lunar resources ramped up in public discussions in the 1970s. This was greatly led by Dr. Gerard K. O'Neill, who developed a practical plan, organized workshops and conferences, published articles and a book, became a prominent public figure as a persistent advocate in the 1970s, and created the Space Studies Institute (SSI). O'Neill and his close associates received a little funding from NASA, but those small amounts were eventually cut off. For example, after the popular US TV show "60 Minutes" ran a segment on space settlement, the Senate's chairman for the subcommittee responsible for NASA funding, William Proxmire, stated "it's the best argument yet for chopping NASA's funding to the bone.... I say not a penny for this nutty fantasy."

(Proxmire later introduced an amendment into NASA's 1982 budget to also end the program to Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Yet, Proxmire, a Senator from the state of Wisconsin which is known as "America's Dairyland", yes, basic mammalian mammary products, consistently promoted tax dollars spent on price supports of dairy products for the benefit of people in his home state, and won votes in Wisconsin by wide margins. Populists for selfish special interests often win in democracies of equal votes of all people.)

"Cosmos", a TV weekly series of programs, co-written and presented by Dr. Carl Sagan (mentioned above), who by then had become a well known and prolific writer, became the most widely watched series of in the history of American public television, and was seen by at least 500 million people in 60 countries. A book titled "Cosmos" was also published, Sagan's writings became very popular in book stores, and Sagan became a high profile public figure.

When estimating the number of extraterrestrial civilizations there may be, Dr. Sagan stated: "Civilizations then might take billions of years of tortuous evolution to arise and then snuff themselves out in an instant of unforgiveable neglect. If this is a typical case, there may be few others, maybe nobody else at all for us to talk to. But consider the alternative, that occasionally civilizations learn to live with high technology and survive ... If only 1% of civilizations can survive technological adolescence, then ... [there could be millions of extraterrestrial civilizations ...]" Earlier, he spoke of civilizations surviving "the trap jointly set by their technology and their passions." (Sagan used The Drake Equation in his presentation, as discussed earlier.)

It was fairly well known that the contradiction between the Fermi Paradox (no extraterrestrial civilizations observed) and the Drake Equation (there should be a very large number of extraterrestrial civilizations) made Dr. Sagan think that technological civilizations may tend to self-destruct.

Dr. Sagan ramped up warnings about the risks of nuclear war to civilization, and concerns over other environmental issues. (Dr. Sagan died in 1996.)

By 1980, I understood the science well enough to know that even an all out nuclear war would not make humankind extinct, though it might lead to the death of over 99% of humans. (Notably, even though some people have said that Sagan believed nuclear war could cause human extinction, I don't believe that Sagan really thought that, as I find it hard to believe. There is a difference between catastrophic collapse of civilization affecting generations vs. actual extinction. I have not yet seen a quote of Sagan saying nuclear war would cause full extinction, only extreme devastation in so many words.)

So, there had to be something else, if humankind was to become extinct ... and I started thinking about which technologies could really make humankind extinct. Biological and chemical weapons were candidates, though I had not clarified how they could be engineered and spread sufficiently, but I was looking out into that realm.

After the Cosmos TV series is also when I started getting very serious about space settlement, and started seriously following the work of Dr. Gerard K. O'Neill and his colleagues for utilizing lunar and near-Earth asteroidal materials for space industrialization and settlement. I traveled to meet Dr. O'Neill when he gave a presentation in Tulsa. After that, I also did a little bit of work for Dr. O'Neill's group while still at the University of Arkansas myself, and started to get to know people associated with O'Neill. I was persuaded by O'Neill that private sector enterprises were a key to faster space development and settlement, though I still thought the large up front costs might require government support initially. Of course, NASA was not supporting this, and it was O'Neill's experiences with NASA's unreliability and the relatively very weak sociopolitical interest in America which also drove his outlook to try to develop a business plan for lunar development which would be profitable to attract elite investment in the private sector, and be sustainable. It was these two things of O'Neill which shaped my outlook: (1) his space settlement and industrialization vision using lunar resources, and (2) his private sector reliance.

After finishing my time at the university, I moved to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region to try to promote space settlement. I will skip nearly all of that here ... except:

A minor matter, but while working fulltime for a Pentagon think tank in advance planning, I suggested that the library subscribe to a periodical on nuclear, biological, and chemical defense, which I had found on the outside. I actually had the intelligence division and others in mind, not just myself, and my job wasn't in this field but was in outer space applications. My request that the library subscribe was eventually rejected by somebody very high up in the organization. (Yes, my job at that time was supported by the government, and I was not yet working for the purely private sector, but it was very good experience learning about how things work in the Washington, D.C., power circles and in human society.)

A book on nanotechnology titled "Engines of Creation, The Coming Era of Nanotechnology", by MIT academic Eric Drexler, was published. I was already familiar with this genius author from his previous work with Dr. O'Neill many years before and some of his published papers for space development, but this book on nanotechnology impacted me very strongly because various applications of molecular nanotechnology engineering could cause humankind extinction.

Drexler's work discussed the great potential benefits of molecular nanotechnology engineering, which were the emphasis of the book, but Drexler also balanced this by mentioning risks. His writing became very popular and influential. (Shortly after publication, I sought out and met Drexler briefly at a conference. He seemed to be a very balanced and open minded person, pleasant, and had a humble demeanor. He was accessible rather than aloof.)

Notably, in 2001-2003, Nobel Prize recipient and chemist Richard Smalley engaged Drexler in a series of debates. Smalley at Rice University had been part of the creation of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) which focused on molecular nanotechnology, and was trying to develop beneficial applications of molecular nanotechnology. However, Smalley was known to be concerned that Drexler's stated dangers of molecular nanotechnology could become a major issue in the general public, which might threaten public support of nanotechnology development. Smalley argued against Drexler. While an interesting debate, it also had an adversarial tone. Smalley even accused Dr. Drexler of failing to understand basic science (despite Dr. Drexler getting his degrees from MIT), and Drexler accused Smalley of publicly misrepresenting Drexler's work. We can expect similar debates in the future when debating the commercial and individual benefits vs. the risks of synthetic biology.

Dr. Gerard K. O'Neill died, at that age of 65, from leukemia.

Dr. Carl Sagan died, at the age of 62, from a kind of blood cell cancer.

The oldest websites on The Wayback Machine can be found today, based on Alexa starting to collect in 1996, which enables us to track discussion of human existential threats on the web going back to 1996.

The earliest date in The Wayback Machine of my website writings mentioning that we are developing the technology to destroy ourselves, emphasizing biotechnology in the lab, whereby the human species could become extinct. This was the main justification for my large P.E.R.M.A.N.E.N.T. website, whereby PERMANENT is an acronym for Projects to Employ Resources of the Moon and Asteroids Near Earth in the Near Term. The website was already very large and neatly organized into sections.

I published the PERMANENT book, which states in the Introduction, in the section Why, the above issue and cites as an example a technically engineered virus...

Bill Joy, a famous computer technologist, best known as the co-Founder of Sun Microsystems, published a provocative article in Wired Magazine about human existential risks which got extensive media attention.
Title: Why the Future Doesn't Need Us
Subtitle: Our most powerful 21st-century technologies — robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech — are threatening to make humans an endangered species.

Of course, it triggered another wide debate on the many benefits vs. the risks of these technologies. The article became another landmark in emerging public awareness. (The article is now behind a paywall, unfortunately.)

2001 September 11:
Al Queda flies airplanes into the World Trade Center twin towers, starting wars, and investigation into Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The world gets more familiar with the concept of weapons of mass destruction.

is covered in another brief section of this website, Synthetic Biology Timeline ...

Below are some additional dates of interest, not covered in my brief synthetic biology timeline.

The aforementioned Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which maintains the Doomsday Clock, published an article stating:
"We may face even greater risks from emerging technologies. Advances in synthetic biology might make it possible to engineer pathogens capable of extinction-level pandemics. The knowledge, equipment, and materials needed to engineer pathogens are more accessible than those needed to build nuclear weapons. And unlike other weapons, pathogens are self-replicating, allowing a small arsenal to become exponentially destructive. Pathogens have been implicated in the extinctions of many wild species. Although most pandemics “fade out” by reducing the density of susceptible populations, pathogens with wide host ranges in multiple species can reach even isolated individuals. The intentional or unintentional release of engineered pathogens with high transmissibility, latency, and lethality might be capable of causing human extinction. While such an event seems unlikely today, the likelihood may increase as biotechnologies continue to improve at a rate rivaling Moore’s Law."
(reference: BAS2008)

The same article notes: "...in the 61 years since the Doomsday Clock’s creation, the risk of human extinction has received relatively scant scientific attention, with a bibliography filling perhaps one page. Maybe this is because human extinction seems to most of us impossible, inevitable, or, in either case, beyond our control. Still, it’s surprising that a topic of primary significance to humanity has provoked so little serious research. ..."

"... perhaps the most effective means of reducing the risk of human extinction is to colonize space sooner, rather than later. ..."(reference: BAS2008)

The website of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in 2023 now has many good articles on biosecurity, and has gone a very long way in shifting from the threats of nuclear war and climate change towards biosecurity.

This website was created, to be a very shortened version of my earlier writings, and more to the point.

There are countless articles on the internet about the risks of human extinction or civilization collapse, but I find that so many have one or more of the following weaknesses:

  • Miss the real threats of extinction, such as synthetic biology creating super pathogens, and instead focus on things like asteroid impacts, climate change, transhumanism, and various other way out things ...

  • Not very convincing, such as light journalism, as so many journalists are too lazy to do much research and are more into starting with a provocative click-bait title and then filler

    ... or, at the other extreme ...

  • Too technical for the general public and most policy makers to understand, often too long, and don't get covered well by journalists in the mass media (for various reasons)

  • Not linked much so not viewed, something I can understand because it's difficult to get people interested and willing to do anything ...

The Wikipedia page on Human Extinction, as of September 2023, has amazing shortcomings and doesn't project a very practical outlook. Within this page, the high estimated probabilities of humankind surviving the current century and longer time periods reflects the poor analyses of the topic by various cited sources. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_extinction

This section is new as of September 2023. I plan to start a blog on articles as they come out, discussing both the plusses and minuses of things which come up. However, the first priority is completing this website and its publicity.


Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: TheBulletin.org


Sections of this website:

  1. Home Page

  2. How Serious And Urgent Is The Threat to Humankind Survival?

  3. Synthetic Biology -- Past Timeline, Current Status, and Future Outlook

  4. Comparing Extinction Threats

  5. The Only Secure Solution: Space Settlement

  6. What About A.I. In The Long Term, If We Survive?

  7. Just Letting Humankind Go Extinct?

  8. History of Awareness and Articles

  9. Contact the author

Please note that you can rate this page at the bottom. Any feedback is appreciated. This is a lot of work and a huge challenge, so encouragement is appreciated.

This website is intended to be a brief summary. Much further details can be found in two other websites written and curated by the author of this publication:

https://www.SpaceSettlement.com -- details on the best solution for survival of humankind, for a wide range of people, from newcomers needing an introduction to engineers looking for the state of the art. It includes a professional publications database, and tries to track who is doing what, for collaboration, coordination, and working efficiently to reach our goals.

https://www.GAINextinction.com -- further details, where G.A.I.N. is an acronym for Genetics, Artificial Intelligence, and Nanotechnology, which are extinction threats we must try to prevent for the survival of humankind.

This website is MankindSurvival.com or HumanKindSurvival.com (both domains go to this same website). Please be careful to use humanKIND and not humanITY because somebody else has the domain for humanity (and last I saw, it was for sale and just had a page advertising links...), and humanity has more than one meaning anyway, so humanKIND is much better for this purpose.

"Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind." -- President John F. Kennedy

When Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first man to step onto the Moon, he said:
"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."
We need to complete that leap for mankind/humankind. We must go back to stay, self-sufficiently, and urgently.

Man's first step on the Moon: (NASA photo)

The author of the text of this website is Mark Evan Prado. Copyright © 2023 by Mark Evan Prado, All Rights Reserved. If you want a printable, PDF copy of this presentation, such as for printed distribution rather than an electronic link to this website, please send me a request. I have kept it within 22 pages of size A4 or 8.5x11 inches, in reasonably large print. I'm not doing this for money nor ego, I'm doing this to try to save humankind from extinction. It is our responsibility within this generation. Please contact me for any collaboration or uses.

If you have any requests or comments, you can also connect with me, Mark, at +66-811357977 (+66-8-1135-7977) and I am on WhatsApp and Line, plus other apps. I am in Thailand but you can send messages any day at any time.

In the purpose and meaning of life, we are parts of something astronomically greater than just ourselves individually. (The author sees individuality as just temporary, and has a panentheistic outlook on the Universe. That's somewhat typical for some of us physicists.) The author is easygoing and is trying to selflessly help create a sustainable collaboration of individuals, companies, governments, academic institutions, and other organizations for the survival of humankind.

As President John F. Kennedy ended his inaugural speech in 1961, I'll end this the same way:

"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.

"My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

"Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on Earth God's work must truly be our own." [End of speech. Bold and italicized emphasis added.]

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