GAIN Extinction

This publication is about very realistic threats of human extinction within the next 10 to 40 years. However, unlike many other such discussions, this publication:

  1. focuses on the very high probability mechanisms of extinction, not the improbable or far future threats,


  2. presents practical solutions to how to maximize the probability of survival of humans, prevent many rogue threats, and at least delay a disaster within Earth's biosphere.

G.A.I.N. -- Genetics, Artificial Intelligence, and Nanotechnology -- is an acronym created here from the names of three fields of scientific development each of which could lead to human extinction, as well as rampant destruction of Earth's ecosystems in the wrong hands. While these fields of development offer great benefits or "gains" such as curing diseases, reversing the aging process, and enhancing human performance, they also offer vastly unprecedented potential to destroy ourselves and other life on Earth.

    G is for Genetics, which includes manmade developments based on living species which developed naturally, but in this case modifying genes by human technology. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and superviruses are two examples.

    AI for Artificial Intelligence whereby future computers will have thinking abilities exceeding the human brain, in key ways probably within 20 years.

    N is for Nanotechnology, which is manipulation of matter at that atomic and molecular "nano" scale. One application is manmade, self replicating molecular machines which have no origin in the natural world and could overwhelm life.

While GAIN makes a good acronym, because these threats are emerging due to attempts to "gain" new achievements in laboratories, we also need to address some other, related terms for fields of development:

    Synthetic Biology is similar to genetics, but instead of altering existing natural DNA, it is the creation from scratch of new DNA which does not occur naturally, usually by using known genes as the building blocks, but can be artificially created genes as well. This can be a LEGO-like building process. This is potentially a far greater threat to life on Earth than tinkering with naturally occurring genetics, e.g., by potentially creating alien pathgens which life on Earth has no natural resistance to. It's debatable where "synthetic biology" falls between "genetics" and "nanotechnology".

    Synthetic Biology on Wikipedia: "What separates synthetic biology from genetic engineering is that rather than altering an already existent DNA strand, synthetic biology puts these 'blocks' together from scratch to build an entirely new strand of DNA which is then placed into an empty living cell. These new cells can be 'built' to perform a number of functions that could greatly benefit humanity. These operations do not exist in nature. ... Biosafety and biosecurity concerns are the understandable response to this new science and technology ..." Syn-Bio-Wiki

    This technology is well advanced, and we may nearing the threshold for a disaster. For example, "In 2000, researchers at Washington University, reported synthesis of the 9.6 kbp (kilo base pair) Hepatitis C virus genome from chemically synthesized 60 to 80-mers. In 2002 researchers at SUNY Stony Brook succeeded in synthesizing the 7741 base poliovirus genome from its published sequence, producing the second synthetic genome. This took about two years of painstaking work. In 2003 the 5386 bp genome of the bacteriophage Phi X 174 was assembled in about two weeks. In 2006, the same team, at the J. Craig Venter Institute, had constructed and patented a synthetic genome of a novel minimal bacterium, Mycoplasma laboratorium and were working on getting it functioning in a living cell. ... In May 2010, Craig Venter's group announced they had been able to assemble a complete genome of millions of base pairs, insert it into a cell, and cause that cell to start replicating. ... Venter plans to patent his experimental cells ..."Syn-Bio-Wiki (Emphasis added.)

    Modifying pathogens such as smallpox, ebola, bird fly, HIV, and others to make them far more contagious and deadly, rather than creating alien life forms, is feasible. It's mainly just a matter of a fanatic individual or small group working on it.

    Biotechnology, on the other hand, is a broad term which can include other potential threats. Genetics and synthetic biology tend to focus on self replicating things such as viruses, cells, and organisms, based on genes, natural or not. However, it's possible that simple mass manufacture of some poison catalyst could lead to extinction, without any self replicating mechanism. An example is a prion which could render humans infertile or insane, or just kill people. It would be vastly more difficult to manufacture enough poison, but possible.

    Some people use the term "robotics" instead of artificial intelligence, but we have robots already and it's not the robots which threaten our extinction, the root is the artificial intelligence controlling the robots. You wouldn't say that a knife with an arm killed a victim, you would say that a killer did, and look at their mind for a motive or other mental mechanism. So, for the sake of brevity, this site will choose A.I. which will include robotics.

The term "nanotechnology" refers to a certain kind engineering on the molecular scale whereby we could possibly manufacture microscopic machines atom by atom, molecule by molecule. These are not necessarily "genes". However, the techniques of nanotechnology have both biological and nonbiological applications. Thus, there is overlap between nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and genetics.

Notably, the term nanotechnology has been misused to promote commercial products as cutting edge technology in a trendy way, so that another meaning of "nanotechnology" has emerged. Some people have suggested that the term "nanotechnology" may be replaced over time with the phrase "molecular engineering" or something like that, though what's to stop that phrase from being misused commercially, too? So, this website will stick with "nanotechnology" with its initial definition.

Nanotechnology is still an emerging field, and while most current applications are harmless, there are two main categories of extinction risks, which are, again, (1) self replicating matter, and (2) mass production of a microscopic poison. They could kill all of a species or genus if not most of not all life in Earth's biosphere. Self replicating nanotechnology would be similar to a virus but with no previous biological basis.

The so-called "grey goo" scenario is where a nanotechnology self replicating machine spreads around Earth, consuming biological matter as its feedstocks to just reproduce itself.

Self replicating matter is the greatest threat to ourselves and the environment. Somebody would need to make just a tiny quantity of something self replicating which reproduces itself in the environment, and then wait for it to spread over time. Once out and blowing around, it cannot be contained, and can spread around the world over time.

Many times, people have dismissed these concerns as crazy doomsaying, "But that has never happened before, so I don't believe it will happen." Unfortunately, the first potential extinction virus could be the last, with no second chance nor any way to learn from the first experience.

The phrase "Artificial Life" is sometimes used but that can become confusing because the phrase is long established as an umbrella term with a wide scope.A-Life-wiki

The webmaster of this site had to come up with some domain name, and the word "gain" seemed to fit, as all these extinction risks are manmade, motivated by commercial "gain", or scientific "gain", or to "gain" benefits to human quality of life, or militarily to "gain" advantage over another entity (which may comprise individual terrorism or antisocial behavior), or possibly just for an ego gratifying achievement or terrorism. Acronym or not, it's still about the high risk to "gain extinction" which we must deal with.

These extinction mechanisms have been discussed by experts and laymen alike in articles and books for decades. This website is a primer intended to:

  • introduce and summarize for the layman the main issues, concisely
  • organize a directory to resources on the web, for deeper research
  • provide a forum to further discuss interactively the issues and resources
  • suggest solutions to at least delay a catastrophic event
  • propose the solution to ensure survival of life from Earth: space colonies which are self-sufficient

This website does not cover potential apocalypses such as nuclear war, asteroid impact, global warming with climate change with the potential for collapse of most worldwide food production, or anything else which could lead to dramatic reduction in the world population and the demise of civilization as we know it -- but not extinction. Too often, news stories, documentaries, and websites on extinction waste time and divert attention away from the real threats to human existence -- by focusing instead on these other potential events, which makes me question their research efforts and analytical ability, while often not addressing the real threats.

Even if we survive this upcoming age of potential self-destruction, our species will, at some time within the next hundred years or so, almost certainly become "extinct" anyway, in one of two ways:

  1. We will learn to create new and greatly superior bodies and brains technologically which are no longer based on our present biology. This is similar to how homo erectus is now extinct but our species is probably descended from homo erectus. That topic, "transhumanism", is not the topic of this website. This website is about destroying ourselves, by accident or by the actions of some antisocial individual or group, before we are able to achieve the creation of a sustainable descendant for the forseeable future. This website is not against transhumanism. Not at all. It's for surviving long enough to get us to that stage.

    For all the enthusiasm for technology gains to stop aging, create transhumans, and so on, it is incredible oversight by techno-utopians to not recognize that these same technologies can make us extinct much more easily and sooner. It is easier to be destructive than creative. We will never achieve these gains unless and until we implement safeguards against extinction along the way.

  2. Artificial intelligence may result in the demise of our species one way or another without going thru the transhumanist phase, depending upon how we develop artificial intelligence.

Transhumanism will involve artificial intelligence, biotechnology at the beginning of transhumanism, and eventually nanotechnology to make us into beings beyond biology. However, again, that is not the topic of this website. We first need to take defensive actions so that our species can survive to get to that point.

"Artificial intelligence" may be considered a sort of transhumanism. It may be viewed as "other than human" even though it is created by man and thus reflects man. The difference is that it is not based on the biological brain. However, the seeds of artificial intelligence will be created by humans, and what artificial intelligence becomes will depend on how ... and who ... creates those seeds.

Within 20-30 years, computers will become more intelligent and smarter than humans, and we will look like dogs or insects to them. This will come from the evolution of our computer technology -- advances in both hardware and software. AI will become more analytical, creative, and able to implement solutions to problems. At that same time, artificial intelligence will also be able to improve its own software and hardware, which will result in an exponential take-off called "the singularity", whereby the gap in intelligence between man and machine will widen so quickly as to become incomprehensible. We will have created a "god", in a way.

Imagine what artificial intelligence will have to say about the way most people don't really care (beyond just talk) about Earth's ecosystems and carelessly trash Earth's environment in unsustainable ways by selfish rampant pursuit of money and materialism, driven by the instincts of personal social status, mating, excessive physical comfort, and various indulgences. What people DO counts more than what people SAY.

A purpose of this website is to ensure the survival of our species long enough to get more good people involved in activities to positive artificial intelligence development, including instilling the morals and values shared by various religions around the world into the seed of artificial intelligence.

However, a greater purpose of this website is to take other measures to ensure that our species survives our tinkering with genetics, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. The most probably way to achieve that is by colonization of outer space beyond Earth's biosphere as soon as possible. In conjunction, we should delay as long as possible the creation of destructive genetic, biological, and nanotechnology mechanisms. The latter will be difficult due to the selfish profit motive and egotistical creative scientists which are nearly sure of creating an accident, or a military design run amok. It is too easy to do things in secrecy, commercially or otherwise.

Humans are hard wired for conflict by natural selection. Whether or not these traits are developed depends upon some combination of genetics and environment, but suffice it to say that there will always be hoardes of people seeking to impose their power over their perceived adversaries. People fight over religion, politics, money, ego, you name it. It has been said that sports satisfy a tribal instinct. (I enjoy watching and playing some sports, too, and root for my alma mater, albeit as an art, but abhor violence and unsportsmanlike conduct, but many people take it too seriously...) Just turn on Fox News if you want to see controversy breeding, which attracts many viewers for excitement. Many people are addicted to the excitement of conflict.

Many humans take what each has the power to get, by money, technology, or position of power, often without thinking much about the environmental impact or how it may impact others. If they have the money, they get it, or do it. If the issue of the environment comes up, if they care enough to talk about it, many people come up with self-righteous or self-serving rationalizations to allow their actions.

Never before on Earth has a species developed technology like humans have, which have the power to transform the ecosystem and the world. Never before have humans developed the technology to change species (e.g., genetically modified organisms). Never before have we had a species on this planet with the power to destroy itself.

In Dr. Carl Sagan's famous TV series "Cosmos", he asks why we haven't found other life in the universe with all our great telescopes, and why they apparently haven't visited. He has an equation for the probability of intelligent life greater than or similar to our own. At the end, the equation has a part about whether that life would survive its own technological stage.

The nature of individuals of our species is selfishness. We are not socialistic ants, we are individualist humans. We are far more diverse. Others are not like us, and personality is not just environmental, it is about half DNA. We cannot change other people to much extent, and we cannot control everyone in the world.

Humans have curiosity and big egos, whereby researchers will try to be the first to do many things, and intelligent people have unusually creative ways of rationalizing away worries and responsibilities (as my psychologist father often pointed out -- the more intelligent, the crazier they can rationalize). Given the commercial incentive to make money and be the first into the market, we are actually in a global race whereby if one researcher doesn't do it, another one eventually will. That's a rationalization for some people to continue themselves rather than back away from potentially dangerous work to create something new.

The power of the individual has grown exponentially, and it continues to grow. One person could destroy us all by creating a supervirus. This technology already exists and is just an accident waiting to happen.

When I worked with the US Department of Defense, most of the researchers were not seriously concerned with the potential effects of weapons they were producing beyond their stated purpose. Many of them were mainly concerned with making money as contractors. There are many ways to rationalize anything you desire. Many of these weapons were highly controversial, to say the least, having never before existed and which could eventually be seen and copied by competing nations and used for multiple purposes. This arms race was happening with close government management. Imagine in the free enterprise private sector!

Companies normally protect their secrets and privacy, and frequently violate laws and regulations when they know that they can get away with it undetected. The world is a very large place with all kinds of people, too much to regulate.

Indeed, look at the vast number of malicious computer virus writers (and selfish spammers) who hide in various ways. There is no profit to a malicious computer virus, yet people create them. Add a profit incentive, such as a vaccine against a future virus, and a population of reckless developers will multiply.

We are on a race towards gaining extinction. Many people focus on rogue governments, but that's probably the least of our worries, and the lion's share of the risk is in secret private sector research labs racing to be the first at something, the accidents about to unfold.

In my opinion, the only realistic way to assure survival is outer space development and colonization, according to my other website, -- via P.E.R.M.A.N.E.N.T., an acronym for Projects to Employ Resources of the Moon and Asteroids Near Earth in the Near Term.

The threat of human extinction needs to be recognized by society, as well as the solution above.

It took 9/11 to put the phrase "Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)" into the human vocabulary.

What will it take to put the phrase "Technologies Imperiling Mass Extinction (TIME)" into the human lexicon? With mass extinction, there is not one event to learn from which gives a second chance.

Space industrialization and colonization can't happen overnight. They take time -- forethought, planning, and implementation over many years.

It may be too late, as mass extinction is only a matter of TIME, and that technology is already here, potentially in the hands of an individual, or profit seeking reckless laboratory, or fanatical government cabal channeling taxpayer money to support itself and its work.

While this website includes many of the thoughts and creations of its webmaster, I'm merely standing on the shoulders of giants and the vast majority of the content is thanks to many other writers. It is hoped that over time, the list of references on this website will grow. The first typing of this website started on September 29th, 2009, and has continued whenever I get free time and energy away from work, so please be patient. Submissions and suggestions are normally very appreciated.

Out of all geologic time, it will be the responsibility of our generation to either ensure survival of life from Earth. Or, you can choose some selfish excuse to avoid this. As someone said before (Stokely Carmichael?), "If you aren't part of the solution then you are part of the problem."

The power of the individual to help is significant today with internet, yet so few people help out. The web pages on the websites I manage have millions of visitors, and the emails I have received in response are in the tens of thousands, but precious few either help out in any way or make a donation and leave.

Notably, your IP address for visiting this website is kept in our logs, and it's probably logged permanently in your ISP or phone company's database (maybe written to a daily DVD and automatically stored for decades), so the artificial intelligence of the future will probably know whether or not you were aware of your responsibility and did anything.

Bob Mankoff, cartoonist for The New Yorker, personal website

This website on human extinction is new, and very small. It is hoped that people from the general public will help me develop this website. One way to do this is by participation in the public forums.

The eyes of the truth are always watching you.

References and Footnotes:
Ref: A-Life-wiki

Source: Artificial Like on Wikipedia
An umbrella term.

Ref: Syn-Bio-Wiki

Source: Synthetic Biology on Wikipedia

External links:

Biosafety on Wikipedia

Biosecurity on Wikipedia    SiteMap

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Site Map
This website is about
realistic human extinction
threats in our generation,
mainly genetics,
biotechnology, and
It also discusses the
realities of Artificial
General Intelligence
by computer advances
in 20-30 years, the
so-called Singularity.