Guest post by David Middleton
We have a pretty good idea of when humans will go extinct
By Christopher Ingraham October 6
“The probability of global catastrophe is very high,” the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned in setting the Doomsday Clock 2.5 minutes before midnight earlier this year. On nuclear weapons and climate change, “humanity’s most pressing existential threats,” the Bulletin’s scientists found that “inaction and brinkmanship have continued, endangering every person, everywhere on Earth.”
Mass murder! Catastrophic climate change! And nuclear anihilation! OH MY!!!
Thankfully, the Washington Post article actually has nothing to do with the Soviet Union of Concerned Scientists.
Princeton University astrophysicist J. Richard Gott has devised a probabilistic method of pinpointing the exact date of human extinction…. Well, maybe not the exact date… But he has nailed down the 95% envelope.
Professor Gott previously predicted the Fall of the Berlin Wall with pinpoint accuracy:
[T]here was a 50 percent chance that the Wall would come down between 1971 (2.66, or 8/3 years into the future) and 1993 (24, or 8 x 3 years into the future). In reality, the Wall fell in 1989, well within his predicted range.
The great thing about Gott’s prediction is that it relied solely on statistics. He didn’t have to try to make assumptions about human behavior, which is wildly unpredictable. No need to take the pulse of East German politics, or calculate the odds of war between West Germany and the Soviet Union. He just ran the numbers.
As it turns out, all that requires is a broadening of the initial assumption: Instead of a 50 percent chance that you are observing something in the middle 50 percent of its lifetime, you could say you have a 95 percent chance of observing that thing in the middle 95 percent of its lifetime. According to the Copernican Principle, this is a very safe bet: You’d have to be incredibly fortunate to be observing something either at its inception (the first 2.5 percent of its timespan) or at its end (the last 2.5 percent).
The 95 percent assumption broadens the predicted timespan considerably. In the case of Gott’s visit to the Berlin Wall, to achieve 95 percent confidence on his prediction he’d have to say the Wall’s future life span was somewhere between 0.2 and 320 years, instead of the 2.66 to 24 years predicted at the 50 percent accuracy threshold. To improve your confidence in a measure like this, in other words, you have to sacrifice some of its precision.
Sacrificing precision to gain accuracy… Just like Gavin’s Twitter Trick!
So now that we know that the fall of the Berlin Wall could have predicted to within one hair of a gnat’s ass (±160.1 years) on the day it was completed!
When does Professor Gott forecast human demise?
We shall “snuff it” sometime between 7,100 AD ad 7,800,000 AD… So… “Last orders please!”
Science Made Stupid: How to Discomprehend the World Around Us is a 1985 book written and illustrated by Tom Weller. The winner of the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Non-Fiction Book, it is a parody of a junior high or high school-level science textbook. Though now out of print, high-resolution scans are available online, as well as an abridged transcription, both of which have been endorsed by Weller . Highlights of the book include a satirical account of the creationism vs. evolution debate and Weller’s drawings of fictional prehistoric animals (e.g., the duck-billed mastodon.)