The Instigator
Chamaeleon
Pro (for)
Losing
3 Points
The Contender
Kinesis
Con (against)
Winning
10 Points

How Will Humanity Destroy Itself?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/27/2011 Category: Society
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 4,007 times Debate No: 17293
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (16)
Votes (3)

 

Chamaeleon

Pro

There is not really a pro and con side for this debate; more like a scary and scarier side. Each side will present what they think is the most likely manner in which humans will destroy themselves (assuming we will), and voters will determine which is the bigger threat to our existence. Each side should attempt to be as specific as possible, and should not pick the same catastrophe. Round 1 will be for acceptance and for naming your armageddon. Round 2 will be for explaining why your apocalypse is plausible. Round 3 will be for explaining why your opponent's cataclysm is less plausible than yours. May the most inevitable ending win.

Note for my opponent: By "destroy themselves" I mean ending our survival as a species, or at least ending civilization, not destroying ourselves as individuals or in a philosophical manner, like being evil and relegating ourselves to eternal damnation (if you believe in that). I'm also not looking for a "natural" disaster, like the Sun exploding in billions of years, an Asteroid impact (unless you think our intervention will cause those things to happen, or happen faster), or entropy eventually prevailing over all complex energy. I'm looking for a man-made doomsday, like atomic warfare, emissions-fueled climate change, or a black hole resulting from a particle collider (feel free to use any of those if you like)

Note for voters: If you both endings seem equally likely to you, please determine your vote by which one you think might happen sooner or which might be harder to avoid. Enjoy the debate and thank you in advance for your lack of faith in humanity.

The method I choose for the downfall of mankind is Grey Goo (self-replicating, programmable nano-scopic robots). My opponent may feel free to represent some other type of robotic doomsday, if he or she wishes, because mine are specific to the atomic size scale.
Kinesis

Con

Thanks to Pro for presenting an interesting topic! As specified, this round will be for acceptance and presenting one's own catastrophe.

My chosen catastrophe will be biological weapons: this includes various weaponised, stored and genetically modified diseases [1] such as smallpox, ebola or polio. [2] [3] [4] I contend that although most existential risks [5] are quite unlikely, biological weapons present one of the more likely possibilities whereas Pro's 'grey goo' scenario is at best less likely - though it does make for good science fiction (and has royal support [6]).

[1] http://www.emedicinehealth.com...
[2] http://www.who.int...
[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov...
[4] http://www.who.int...
[5] http://www.nickbostrom.com...
[6] http://news.bbc.co.uk...
Debate Round No. 1
Chamaeleon

Pro

Heeeey, you kind of jumped the gun with your citations and accusations there. The first round was only meant for you to name your plague, not to back it up or refute mine. Sneaky sneaky. I'll ask the jury to please disregard my opponent's comments beyond his acceptance and choice of biological warfare, lol. Anyway, here we go:

Nano-bots:
Although it may not seem so at first glance, we have actually chosen a very similar means to our end. This at least suggests to me that we both realize many of the potential dangers involved in learning to engineer complex molecular arrangements (or that we both have no idea what we're talking about, but I like the first suggestion better, don't you?)

For those of you unfamiliar with nanotechnology, I will give a more thorough explanation of what it entails. Nanotechnology is man-made technology in which any or all components range from about 1 to 100 nanometers in size [1], which is the measurement scale of individual atoms (about 20 hydrogen atoms in a line makes 1 nanometer, and light waves range from 400-700 nm)[2]. It is a loose definition, as you will often find technology involving components of several thousand nanometers still being called nanotechnology. Indeed much of what is required to accomplish biological warfare is also often called nanotechnology. The science has actually been alive for more than 2000 years [3], but has finally flourished in the last few decades.

In the late 90's you may have heard about carbon nanotubes being strong enough to build an elevator to the moon. Nothing happened with them for a while because mass production was unfeasible, but now that issue has been overcome and nanotubes are cropping up in all kinds of areas: as scaffolding for bone tissue re-growth, as a conduit material for flexible electronic displays, and as re-enforcement in tennis rackets and golf clubs. Other nano-materials include filters for water purification, light-absorptive particle in sunscreen, and graphene, which is becoming the new, and superior silicon; the stuff of quantum computers. I could go on all day about where and how nanotechnology is being used, but suffice it to say that there's a lot of it, all over the place, and the applications are expanding daily. Ten years ago, you'd have been hard-pressed to find someone who knew the meaning of the word, but in another ten years you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't. Before long, everything you see and use will have nano-sized components because some very interesting properties of matter can be found and exploited when you start dealing with very thin or small groups of matter, or when you combine them in very specific ways. The invisibility cloaks being developed (yes, like Harry Potter's) are a result of nanotechnology. The oil-eating bacterium that we're using the clean up the Gulf spill - nanotechnology. The cure for HIV...nanotechnology. Lot's of good things, but potentially also lots of bad. [4,5,6, 7 & 8 throughout this paragraph]

You might already think the idea of invisibility cloaks is a scary idea, and I'm inclined to agree, but that's just the surface. Fifty years ago, if you asked someone what the biggest threat to the whole world is, they'd have said nuclear war. The occurrence of nuclear war was pretty much everyone's idea of a modern-day Armageddon. But in all likelihood a nuclear war wouldn't mean the end of mankind. It would be pretty touch-and-go for a while and civilization might have to start pretty far back again, but people would survive.

Worst case scenario in twenty years though is that some nerd in his mom's basement, or some Bruce Wayne billionaire in a tower invents self-replicating, programmable nano-bots and decides it's about damn time he finds out what it's like to be popular with the ladies. But being that he is very unsuccessful in love, and a little insane from spending so much time alone in a basement/ tower, he concludes that his best chance of getting what he wants from women is if he is the only man alive. Certainly not a novel thought for men over the ages, but now this geek has an unstoppable army of nano-drones, which he has programmed to erase, atom-by-atom, any other human with a Y chromosome, excepting him. Like bacteria, the drones can replicate in basically no-time-flat, so that one could turn into trillions overnight, and the next day they blanket the world in Grey Goo, from which there is absolutely, unequivocally, unconditionally no defense. What could you do, after all, to something that can disassemble you atom-by-atom? A whole lot of nothing, that's what. Forget about some kind of EMP: the components of these things will be tiny compared to light waves. And besides, that invisibility cloaking technology I mentioned will allow them to simply bend the waves of EM energy around themselves and go on about their business. Forget about nuking the buggers: that'd be less effecting than trying to nuke all the insects in the world; you'd wipe yourself out before you got all of them. And forget about some type of magic armor, or super-thick bunker underground. These suckers will be able to finely manipulate the electromagnetic forces that create atomic bounds and make things just... fall apart into a grey goo of individual atoms (hence the name). Just forget about doing anything at all besides laying down and turning suddenly into a pool of your own filth. Hell, they might not even leave a pool of you behind. They might just use every atom in your body to build more of themselves. The advent of these things will grant their maker absolute power (at least compared to other humans); you could literally turn lead into gold, or wipe people away like so much fart on a wind. Scary, right?

References:
Please see my comment for denoted references. Ran out of room here.
Kinesis

Con

Introduction

To clarify: the latter half of my R1 was an irrelevant preamble, and was not intended to be anything approaching an argument. I am perfectly happy to agree with Pro that voters should disregard it when voting. It is true that both of our proposed disasters are on the scale of the very small, however biological warfare entails several 'risks' (considerations that render biological warfare more likely to be disastrous, or to occur) that outweigh similar considerations with regards to nanobots. Although the proposed structure of the debate makes me unable to compare the two proposals, I trust that voters can see where bio-warfare contains a risk that is not comparable or present with nano-technology.

I will divide the proposed 'risks' into categories.

1: There is historical precedent for biological weapons
  • Whereas many other existential risks (risks that pose a significant threat of wiping out, or severely reducing the global population of humans) are largely theoretical, bio-weapons have been used before by humans, and non-directed natural diseases have killed frightening numbers of people in the past. Various diseases, viruses and infections are responsible for huge numbers of deaths worldwide today - second only to starvation [1]. Though such diseases are most prevalent in non-industrialised countries, they still kill large numbers of people in developed countries. Pandemics provide a sound basis for evaluating the potential risk posed by bio-weapons, since they are nature's bio-weapons - merely unintentional ones. The number of historical deaths from disease is too colossal to be reasonably estimated - it runs into the tens of billions at least. The 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak killed between 50 and 100 million people [2]. In the 14th century, Black Death killed 40% - 60% of the population of Europe [3] and persevered for centuries after.
  • With regards to the historical precedent for intentionally directed bio-weapons, the history is almost as dramatic. As far back as 1500–1200 B.C, there are recordings of plague victims being driven into enemy lines [4]. During the second and first world wars, Germany pursued ambitious biological weapons programs [5] using anthrax amongst others. More recently, in 1991, Iraq admitted to breaking the UN convention prohibiting bio-weapons, storing huge quantities of botulinum toxin loaded into military weapons [6] - enough to kill the entire human race several times over. Bio-weapons are no theoretical or potential threat - although they have yet to reach globally disastrous results, they are simply the existential risk with the most impressive (or even existent) track record of death and devastation.

2: Globalization makes Bio-Weapons more devastating.
  • Infectious bio-weapons would spread quickly around the globe via globalization [7] by which I mean the increase in extent of trade and travel routes around the world. A pandemic instigated in China, the US or any other reasonably developed country would quickly spread to other countries. Even undeveloped countries would not be safe, since A. many diseases can be disseminated through the air and water supply and B. Charity workers from developed countries regularly visit undeveloped countries. Additionally, as cultures spread to other countries and the human race becomes more homogeneous, the likelihood of a single virus wiping out mankind becomes more and more likely.

3: Development of bio-weapons is easily hidden and the technology easily available.

  • Biological weapons can be developed in small, easily concealed facilities and require no unusual raw materials for their manufacture [8]. The book Global Catastrophic Risks containing peer reviewed research on the subject [9] lists several dangerous recent developments including:


"The polio virus has been synthesized from readily purchased chemical
supplies. When this was first done, it required a protracted cutting-edge
research project. Since then, the time needed to synthesize a virus genome
comparable in size to the polio virus has been reduced to weeks. The virus
that caused the Spanish flu pandemic, which was previously extinct, has
also been resynthesized and now exists in laboratories in the United States
and in Canada."

  • It also notes that the complete genomes from hundreds of bacteria and virus' have been sequenced and deposited in online, public databases. Technological and information barriers to the public creation of bio-weapons are steadily being eroded as technology advances - and we are much closer to bio weapons in this regard than other risks. These considerations lead to the conclusion that the creation of a deadly 'super-bug' or globally destructive bio weapon could be easily carried out in secrecy, by a small team of scientists in the not-to-distant future, by almost any even moderately developed nation or independent team. This is not sci-fi speculation. It could actually happen very soon, and would be even more likely to happen in the distant future given the increase in technological know-how.
Conclusion.

Bio-weapons pose a significant threat to the global population. They have already killed on smaller scales; natural viruses have killed on the global scale already; they would be even more deadly given globalization; and they could be easily, cheaply and secretly developed by a small team of people with only moderate funding.


Sources:

[1] http://ucatlas.ucsc.edu...
[2] http://www.cdc.gov...
[3] http://books.google.com...
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org...
[5] http://web.archive.org...
[6] http://jama.ama-assn.org...
[7] http://en.wikipedia.org...
[8] Global Catastrophic Risks - p23
[9] http://tinyurl.com...

Debate Round No. 2
Chamaeleon

Pro

Okay, here's where you can compare and contrast the validity of each of our arguments.

I think you are correct in saying that biological engineering is a bigger threat than nanotechnology right now. It is, however, not a threat to our survival as a species, and in my opinion, never will be. The reason is that there's a very simple trick for eluding death by biological agent - don't get infected with it. To infect the most people all around the world, contaminants could be pumped into the oceans and the air, but we do have the technology to micro-filter air and water. If some incurable disease were unleashed on the world, news of it would spread faster than the disease itself and everyone who could filter their air and water would begin doing so. How is an infectious disease going to be a threat to those people? It can't eat through walls, or force its way through micro-filtration units. Nanobots, on the other hand, could do exactly that. And just because the self-replicating, programmable kind don't exist yet doesn't mean they aren't certainly going to exist in the near future, because they are. Unless mankind stops making progress, just stops, nanobots will be made in our lifetime. There is already "smartdust"[1] at the millimetre scale and soon to breach the micrometer scale. Guess what's after that? If you guessed picometer you skipped one....it's nanometer!

Worst case scenario with an engineered biological agent is that large chunks of the world population would be killed off, but there's no way a disease could get all of us. And even if you used biological agents to target any and all lifeforms, disrupting the food chain and trying to kill humans off indirectly, it still wouldn't work because we can make food artificially in labs now [2]. Hell, we can even synthesize food from our poo now! [3] Gross, I know, but the point is that if we really needed to, humans could survive without ever having to go outside or interact with other lifeforms, so there's just no way a disease could end us as a species.

In order for any virus or bacteria to pose a threat of extinction, it would have to not only be deadly to anyone who came into contact with it, it would also have to be able to actively seek out that contact and be able to get through any barriers that humans had put in the way of it. Microbes just aren't smart enough to do that. They could possibly be engineered to become that smart, or to be manipulated by people who are smart enough to do that, but that would require nano-scale manipulations, making them nanotechnology. For instance, it is possible to manipulate some bacteria with magnetics [4], but to make the manipulation fine enough to do anything complex, the bacteria would have to be nano-engineered, which would technically make them nanobots. And by the time we are able to finely manipulate the structures of bacteria and viruses, we will simply build our own structures on that scale so they do exactly what we want and nothing more.

Man's medical woes will be a thing of the past when we all get out injection of nanobots. They will be our 24-hour, on-the-spot medical diagnosis and treatment team. They will not only be able to eradicate viral and bacterial disease, but to correct errors of DNA as well. And it's more than just theory at this point: the requisite knowledge and components are being assembled as we speak [don't believe me? Check out references 5-8]. We are making the nano-scale Lego set, and in a matter of years, we'll be building things with it. At that point, biological warfare will altogether cease to be a threat. You could feed someone cyanide soup, and the nanobots would just deconstruct the harmful components. The only threat we will face at that point is the nanobots themselves.

Lastly, I am aware that the inceptor of nanobots, Eric Drexler, has recently done an interview in which he said nanobots should no longer be considered a threat because they won't need to be made to self-replicate since we are finding ways to synthesize atomic and molecular structures en masse without the need to build them up atom by atom (which would otherwise require billions of nanobots, and self-replication would be the easiest way to get those billions). However, the fact that they won't need to be built that way does not preclude the fact that they could be built that way. Drexler and most of the scientific community may have purely benevolent operatives in mind for nanotechnology, but I guarantee you there are people who do not. There are people who want to be able to make these to control or kill other people, and they may just beat the rest of us to the punch. If they do, we're screwed. Period.

Thanks for taking the time to read and vote, and thank you Kinesis for engaging in an excellent debate. Here are my references for this round.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org...
2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk...
3. http://newsone.com...
4. http://cat.inist.fr...
5. http://www.sciencedaily.com...
6. http://www.physorg.com...
7. http://www.sciencedaily.com...
8. http://www.sciencedaily.com...
Kinesis

Con

Introduction

Thanks to Pro for the debate. Though I'm itching to respond to his arguments in R3, the rules don't permit me too, so I'll content myself with refuting his nanobots scenario. However, Pro does defend his own scenario in some parts of R3 (tsk tsk, rules Pro) so I assume I'm allowed to respond to those claims as part of my R3. I will divide my response into a number of 'safeties' (considerations that make it less likely that self-replicating nanobots will wipe out the human race, or to be created anytime soon) that outweigh similar considerations with regards to bio-weapons. Again I trust that voters can see where these considerations apply to Pro's attempted refutation of my bio-weapons scenario.

1: Pro's scenario is incredibly implausible.
  • I can't even tell if Pro was at all serious when proposing how his nanobots would take over the world. Firstly, it isn't obvious that we will even have viable nanotechnology in 20 years. It's a possibility, but it would be tightly controlled and regulated by the government, and would definitely be patented. What makes Pro think any random insane guy could just build self-replicating nanobots in his basement? In case he doesn't know, Bruce Wayne is actually a fictional character. And the motivations for wiping out the human race are also absurd. A nerd wiping out all the men in the world so he can get lucky? Really? Just because someone can invent a random scenario in which the human race gets devastated doesn't mean it's at all probable.
  • This can be seen by simply replacing Pro's nanobots with an airborne pathogen that kills men. There, the story supports my side of the debate!

2: Pro's scenario wouldn't even lead to the end of the human race
  • Killing all men except the mad nerd/Bruce Wayne wouldn't wipe out the human race. Firstly, there would be the nerd/Bruce Wayne himself to mate with as many women as are willing to do their bit to continue humankind. Secondly, there are plenty of sperm banks that women could use to get pregnant. Sure, it would be a big blow. But wiping out 49% of the human population wouldn't permanently put an end to human civilisation. I'd dare say it would be a lot more peaceful if there were almost all women for a few generations.

3: The creation of Self-Replicating nanobots is unlikely
  • Pro anticipates this response in his previous round, acknowledging that nano-technology pioneer Eric Drexler [1] has come out to say that there is no need to build anything even resembling a potential runaway replicator. Rather, the likely technology used in the future will be miniature factories that mass produce nanobots [2]. Pro argues that this isn't important, since on his scenario the nanobots would be created by some independent maniac. Well, again, his scenario is absurd. Further, why would such a person be able to create self-replicating nanobots if all that had been created were factory produced nanobots? Even if this is some kind of mad genius (and again, why would it be any less likely that this mad genius would create a biological weapon to achieve the same effect?) surely they would need access to the technology invented by whatever company creates nanobots? An such companies would harbour the information to created non-replicating nanobots, not replicating ones.
  • Reinforcing this point, the Centre for Responsible use of Nanotechnology [3] notes that "Fear of runaway nanobots, or “grey goo”, is more of a public issue than a scientific problem" [4]. Pointing out that self-replicating nano-robots would be "extremely difficult to design and build, and its replication would be inefficient" because "A grey goo robot would face a much harder task than merely replicating itself. It would also have to survive in the environment, move around, and convert what it finds into raw materials and power." which would be an incredibly difficult machine to design and create, not to mention a feat possible only with large amounts of expensive technology and an entire research and development centre - far beyond the capabilities of some lonely mad nerd. It then goes on to point out that many of these problem would not apply to manufactured, non-self-replicating nanobots, which wouldn't pose the threat Pro argues for.

Conclusion

Nanotechnology is unlikely to become a widely used technology for some time, and when it does, it will be mass produced nanotechnology rather that self-replicating nanotechnology. Pro's scenario is incredibly implausible for numerous reasons, whereas bio-technology is a current threat which is only exacerbated by globalisation, means of cheap, hidden production and the other factors mentioned in my R2. Bio-weapons are much more likely to pose a devastating threat the human race in the near future. Vote Con.

Debate Round No. 3
16 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Kinesis 5 years ago
Kinesis
Yeah, I probably going to present all my debates like this in the future.
Posted by Sneaky_Pete 5 years ago
Sneaky_Pete
Yet you still have time to keep mentioning that, lol. Nevermind bro, it's ot that important. If we wipe ourselves out, it won't really matter how much we debated about it here, will it?
Posted by Thaddeus 5 years ago
Thaddeus
Small note of a pedantic nature; Bruce Wayne isn't fictional.
Duh.
Posted by Kinesis 5 years ago
Kinesis
I don't have time to continue the debate in the comments, I meant.
Posted by Kinesis 5 years ago
Kinesis
Eh, I could advertise the debate and it would get a bunch more votes I guess. I suspect Cliff will vote on it at some point.
Posted by SuperRobotWars 5 years ago
SuperRobotWars
So no one else is going to vote?
Posted by Chamaeleon 5 years ago
Chamaeleon
Lol, I like how you took the time to write a comment that you don't have time for further comments.
Posted by Chamaeleon 5 years ago
Chamaeleon
Disregard my next comment. The order of the typing got mixed up halfway through, somehow. Here is what it should actually say...

You're getting caught up on ideas that are not central to my argument. Who cares what the motivation is for someone wiping out humanity? Do you really think it's impossible that anyone would ever have the motivation to do that? If so, you've never met me, because I would do that if I had the technology. No joke, I really would. I'd erase all of you and myself along with you. The hypothetical about some guy wiping out all the men on the earth does not mean that a person would only stop at wiping out men. That scneario was anecdotal to illustrating the potential of nanobots; it is not the only situation in which one could use them, and certainly not the most damaging.

Who cares if Bruce Wayne in fictional? There are real billionaires in the world; and plenty of privately owned R&D firms, many of which are in areas that are not well regulated. You are also under-estimating the availablility of technology in the future. Do you think it will always require huge funds and vast teams to create nanotechnology? As technology advances, it becomes easier and cheaper to create. Just as you could make biological infectants with some over-the-counter junk today, so too will you be able to do that with nanotechnology in the future. Perhaps you have heard about the 3D-printers that are now commercially available for a little more than a thousand dollars. You could program any 3-dimensional structure that fits the size limit of the device, and make it from scratch. That and other technologies will become more and more refined as time goes on, until at some point anyone under the sun can make anything they can imagine, without its creation being regulated. You think the internet is hard to regulate? Just wait.

Anyway, a good debate. Time will tell which threat is truly greater, but it's fun to speculate. I'll hope for your sake that I am wrong.
Posted by Kinesis 5 years ago
Kinesis
Sorry, it was an interesting topic but I don't have time to continue it in the comments.
Posted by Chamaeleon 5 years ago
Chamaeleon
Also, you're getting caught up on ideas that are not central to my arguments. Who cares what the motivation is for someone wiping out humanity? Do you really think it's impossible that anyone would ever have the motivation to do that? If so, you've never met me, because I would do that if I had the technology. No joke, I really would. I'd kill all of you and myself along with you.

The hypothetical about some guy wiping out all the men on the earth does not mean that a person would only stop at wiping out men. That scneario was anecdotal to illustrating the potential of nanobots; it is not the only situation in which one could use them, and certainyl not the most damaging.

Who cares if Bruce Wayne in fictional? There are real billionaires in the world; and plenty of privately owned research and development institutions, many of which are in areas that are not so well regulated.
require huge funds and vast teams to create nanotechnology? As technology advances, it becomes easier and cheaper to create. Just as you could probably make biological infectants with some over-the-counter junk today, so too will you be able to do that with nanotechnology in the future. Perhaps you have heard about the 3D-printers that are now commercially available for a little more than a thousand dollars. You could program any 3-dimensional structure that fits the size limit of the device, and make it from scratch. That and other technologies will become more and more refined as time goes on, until at some point anyone under the sun can make anything they can imagine, without its creation being regulated. You think the internet is hard to regulate? Just wait.

Anyway, a good debate. Time will tell which threat is truly greater, but it's fun to speculate with our limited understanding today. I hope, for your sake, that I am wrong.

You are also under-estimating the availablility of technology in the future. Do you think it will always
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by imabench 5 years ago
imabench
ChamaeleonKinesisTied
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Cons argument is more likely and plausible
Vote Placed by Cliff.Stamp 5 years ago
Cliff.Stamp
ChamaeleonKinesisTied
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Total points awarded:34 
Reasons for voting decision: Really clear presentation from Kinesis, 1 pt. Solid arguments from both sides, 1 pt to Pro for referencing The Batman. Kinesis did a better job on the defeater arguing against motive and possibility. 3:2 arguments. Both sides had a few minor rule infractions. And by the way Bruce Wayne isn't a fictional character, who keeps Gotham safe? The Commissioner - that is ridiculous.
Vote Placed by SuperRobotWars 5 years ago
SuperRobotWars
ChamaeleonKinesisTied
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Reasons for voting decision: I can only vote for convincing-ness for everything else is about even.