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Extinction Scenarios for 2075: Videos and Narratives

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Humanity faces a myriad of existential technology, geopolitical, and ecological risks. When these risks are studied separately, one misses the destructive systemic trajectories due to cascading risks. Read more about the study and its eligibility criteria here. To fill out the 20-minute Stanford Global Systemic Risk Scenario online survey, go directly to this short survey

Five input scenarios are available to inspire discussion:

In this video Trond Arne Undheim, Research Fellow at SERI, the Stanford Existential Risk Initiative, at Stanford University presents the Stanford Global Systemic Risk study. He talks about participating in the ‘Global Systemic Risk Scenarios’ research study as a survey respondent, focus group participant, or even as a research collaborator. You’re eligible to be in this study if you are an organization, expert, practitioner, or activist in a domain or social movement of relevance to future risks and innovations.

The build-up of exponential technologies, paired with a plethora of natural and human-made disasters that characterized the last few decades towards 2075 were not all unforeseen, but the exact toxic mix came as a more than unpleasant surprise, given that it depleted global resources and pitted the world’s nations against each other in a drive for ambition, domination, and, ultimately, for survival. The unforeseen chain of events that were precipitated by an initial period of nearly 30 years of exponential growth in technology, finance, and prosperity, ended abruptly in a global contraction caused by a devastating blast from an X factor surrounding a new energy technology, and escalated from there into an extinction event.

Human-induced climate change from the whole industrial era, starting with industrial activity in the 1800s, and, in particular, since the anthropocene era starting in the 1950s, have accumulated to produce a mutually reinforcing cocktail of famine, extreme weather, war, and disease, starting to accelerate in the 2050s. Cascading effects of poor land use and primary predator extinction had wiped out 30% of 1850s biodiversity by 2040 and 50% by 2050, and has, since 2065, left the Earth without clean water and lacking in food. As a result, the Earth has already been reduced to 20 percent of the 2025 population, with the population rapidly dwindling, and the planet is on a trajectory that would end humanity within a few decades unless a drastic intervention happens, which does not look likely.

The devastating regional war that began in 2055 decimated the world’s two most powerful nations, entailed widespread use of inexpensive, widely available weapons of mass destruction, unleashed the biggest standoff ever seen using nuclear warheads, and created detrimental ripple effects across the world within three months, causing global financial collapse, nuclear winter, and near instant, drastic population decline, escalating GDP declines, as well as causing revolutions, fueled by disinformation in several countries. Globalization as a system of trade also became defunct, and with that, other global institutions collapsed, too.

The AIs that emerged in the first few decades after 2025 didn’t have the capacity of general intelligence, and were far from sentient. However, by the turn of 2050, things changed abruptly. Unforeseen changes started to occur, at first amongst the world’s top 100 supercomputers which, by 2045 had all been equipped with quantum processors. But it was the alignment of AIs with certain social groups who financed their emergence, and agreed with what we came to understand were the AI’s intentions and agenda, that made the runaway phenomenon possible. Enabled by humans, AIs became unstoppable, not alone, but as a hybrid collaboration.

The synthetic biology breakthrough that fostered the crisis was discovered all the way back in the 2020s. It wasn’t the technology as much as the 2047 lab leak and the rapid integration with nature in a vulnerable part of the world that caused Earth’s ecology to take a nosedive. The synthetic compounds reacted adversely with photosynthesis and affected drinking water. However, it was the second lab leak, from the Floridian Mars lab in 2067 that accelerated things. The impact of both leaks were initially subtle, and almost untraceable. After a long incubation period, Earth succumbed to human-created synthetic compounds only after failed attempts to decontaminate and isolate the problem regionally.