should i be
afraid of
the
future
?

Will Mother Nature reclaim the Planet?
Can Mankind really be trusted?
Will Science & Technology eventually doom us?

Will
Mother Nature
reclaim the
planet?

Will global warming
bring an end
to humanity?

Well, it’s happening, it's caused by us and we don't quite know what to expect. But, most certainly, the few good ramifications of global warming won’t outweigh the negative ones.
Besides reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the key for mitigating the worst effects will be adaptation.

Are we
threatening
ecosystems
and
causing animals
to go extinct?

It is estimated that 99% of all the species that have ever evolved have already gone extinct long before Homo sapiens walked the Earth. So, while extinction is a common natural phenomenon, it's now accelerated by humans’ transformation of nature. Scientists argue whether this is a problem of mere aesthetics or one of our survival, but most people feel strongly about declining biodiversity. However, we are now seeing that the idea of reviving extinct animals must not always remain science fiction, but rather could become a real possibility in the future.

Is it just me
or is the weather
getting more & more
extreme?

A likely effect of global warming is that we are going to see more extreme weather events. Again, the key for a prosperous future will be human adaptation. While some lands become inhospitable, the situation elsewhere might change for the better. And some weather events are now fairly predictable, giving affected communities hours or even days for preparation.

Will rising sea levels
displace millions
of people?

Caused by the thermal expansion of warming oceans and by increased glaciers and ice caps melting, sea levels around the world are rising. Consequences of expanding oceans will be felt harder in poor countries that cannot afford to build higher dykes or modern stilt housing.
It's the responsibility of the developed countries to care for affected coastal communities. One step in this direction would be to grant environmental migrants the status of refugees.

Is there
an ice age
around
the corner?

We’re in one!
We’re currently living through a warmer period within an Ice Age. At some point in the next 1,500 to 50,000 years, this so-called interglacial period is expected to end and the Earth will enter a colder period. Global Warming might defer the next so-called glacial period, although the interactions of causing factors aren’t fully understood.

Aren’t there more & more
earthquakes, tsunamis
and volcanic eruptions
each year?

We know that these kind of geophysical disasters will continue to happen in the future and we can roughly estimate their frequency. It's debatable though if these events happen more often nowadays or if there are simply more people living and thus experiencing disasters in all parts of the world.

I saw those massive
computer-generated images
of a megatsunami on the telly.
Could this happen for real?

Giant landslides at coastlines or a meteorite hitting the ocean could cause a megatsunami. However, scientists think this threat is exaggerated, as chunks of land break off in bits, not in one dramatic plunge – just as the likelihood of a meteorite hitting the Earth is extremely low.

I live near a tectonic plate.
How can I not be worried?

There are places near tectonic plates where a major earthquake is overdue. One of them is Istanbul where the government has offered to move residents to new, safer housing estates further out from the city. Cleverly constructed or reinforced buildings can also help resist earthquakes, but they are expensive. Until all buildings in affected areas are up to standard, there’s little more to do but hope and wait – or move to safer areas.

Could the eruption
of a supervolcano
happen again?

Currently, there’s no evidence that a supereruption is imminent. They are exceedingly rare, and the odds that one will occur in the lifetime of anybody reading this are vanishingly small.
So, relax and get the biscuits out.

Will the Earth’s
crust do a 180°
rotation
around the core
and cause oceans to break away,
cities to dump into the sea,
earthquakes, tsunamis
and the like?

You got this from the movie '2012', right? This scenario is actually possible – but only on the big screen. What does happen every 450,000 years or so is a geomagnetic reversal, meaning an interchange of the Earth’s magnetic North and South.
That doesn’t cause any harm to life on Earth, though.

How do we know
what the universe
has in store for us?

Is it true
that a planet called Nibiru
or Planet X is approaching Earth
and will destroy us?

No. If it were real, astronomers would have been able to track it, it would be visible by now and Bruce Willis would be on the case. In general, impact events are possible but very unlikely. In any case, NASA’s Near Earth Object Program keeps an eye on the sky for us.

Do I need to worry about
Solar flares,
galactic outbursts,
supernovae,
black holes,
gamma-ray bursts
or dark nebulas?

These are real threats, and they would most certainly cause life on Earth to come to an end, but nothing like this will happen in the next few billion years. What’s inevitable is that 5 billion years from now the sun will expand into a red giant and boil off all the world's oceans. By that time, if we're still around, we’ll have to look for a new planet.

If aliens ever decide to visit us,
who says they’ll be nice?

In case of an alien invasion, it’s probably advisable to stick close to the type of people who usually survive: the President of the United States or a little girl with a dog.

Does our worldwide
interconnectedness
give way to
a global
pandemic
?

The threat of a mutated virus or the accidental release of infectious agents is taken very seriously and is well recognised by the UN, WHO and many governments. However, using genome sequencing, advanced medical science can now devise a vaccine or cure faster than ever before. Also, to wipe out all humans, a virus would have to be very powerful and, given the genetic difference within and among populations, it's unlikely it could infect everyone.

Can mankind
really
be trusted?

Won’t we all
just kill each other?

Unlikely. There has actually been a decline in violence (as in wars, genocides or human-rights abuses) since the end of the Cold War. Who knows, some day we might even overcome the barbaric custom of war altogether.

Is there still hope
for humanity?

Yes. If in doubt, you may consider joining the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. The movement goes without ceremonial suicide (which is nice), however, you are asked to refrain from procreation.

Will overpopulation
lead to our demise?

Maybe the solution is our renewal at the age of 30...

Are we depleting
all our natural resources?

In the future, fossil fuels will decrease in importance, thanks to renewables. However, several rare-earth elements that are critical components in many key technologies will continue to be rare. Concepts like urban mining or
cradle-to-cradle design will become increasingly important.

Are we heading
towards an era
of energy scarcity?

Soon, we could get 100% of our energy from renewable resources. What's needed for a successful transition are smart energy management systems and improved and extended power grids. While during the transition phase, there might be some hiccups, it’s not out of the question that at some point we could have virtually unlimited cheap, renewable energy. Really.

Will our food supply keep up?

So far, overall food production has kept pace with our increasing population. And chances are that it will continue to do so in the future. Ever improved agricultural techniques like irrigation, crop rotation, the efficient and better targeted usage of fertilisers and pesticides (precision farming) and last but not least the development of new GM crops point to a coping food system. Unfortunately, battling hunger remains an economic as well as a political problem.

Will the Gods
lose their temper
with us?

Will the Mayan calendar
(and thus the world)
end in 2012?

Not according to NASA: ‘Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012.’ Phew.

Will the Four Horsemen
of the Apocalypse
come upon us?

Will one of the
end-of-world prophets
eventually be right?

In hindsight, Nostradamus has been credited for correctly foreseeing many events: the French Revolution, Napoleon, Adolf Hitler, both world wars and the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But it would be astonishing if at some point he, or someone else, actually predicted something.

Will we see
societal breakdowns
everywhere?

If you’re scared of imminent societal collapse, marauding crowds or just have a vague concern that everything is seriously going downhill, you might consider becoming a prepper.
Here is some helpful advise:


  1. Prepare an emergency bag and location;
  2. Never travel alone;
  3. Stay hidden or out of sight;
  4. Get a second citizenship;
  5. Always suspect you're being watched;
  6. Above all: Never trust your own species!

Will science & technology
eventually
doom us?

Surely,
messing with nature
can't be a
good thing?

What if a virus escapes
and turns people
into zombies?

Zombies are humans with minimal brain function who don’t sleep. They will kill themselves off from extreme exhaustion within days. Until this happens: get a shotgun, find shelter and enough food.

Aren’t genetically
modified foodstuffs

bad for you?

There is now broad scientific and regulatory consensus that food derived from current GM crops is safe to eat. Chances are that GM crops provide greater resistance to pests and viruses, higher nutritional value and higher yield, thus potentially being able to play an important part in securing future food production. Furthermore, the development of new tastes and textures points to an exciting future for foodies.

Do humans
really need
to be enhanced?

Technology and medicine are changing what it means to be human. The 2012 Olympics saw an amputee with two prosthetic carbon legs entering the men's 400 meters race and in some US universities, a quarter of students are reportedly using 'smart drugs' to improve grades. The instruments of manipulating our performing, thinking and feeling can bring extreme individual and sometimes maybe even societal benefits. However, bioethicists fear a future full of modified supermen, leaving behind the ones who are unable, or unwilling, to modify themselves.
At least, with so many unresolved issues touching on established cultural conventions, the future won't be boring.

Is it right
to choose the
traits of a baby?

Whilst reproductive technologies provide many benefits, questions remain. For example, will we feel that our society is lacking something important once all people with Down's syndrome have disappeared? Will parents choosing to have a disabled child face a new form of discrimination? Are treatments accessible to everyone or just for the affluent classes? Those questions will gain more significance when the line between therapy and human enhancement becomes more blurred or even dissolves.

Will neuroscience
tamper with my
thinking & feeling?

Will they
be able to
read our minds?

Current neuroimaging produces fascinating pictures and gives an unprecedented amount of insight into the mind and how the brain functions. Through this scientists can identify high-order patterns in the brain that can tell, for example, which of some previously shown pictures a test person is thinking of. This is obviously way off the idea that a machines could tap into our inner most thoughts or feelings. Yet! But research and technologies are advancing quickly, and more accurate forms of 'extracting useful information' from brain scanning is imminent. It's important to have public debates on how and when thought identification should be used.

Will we have
brain-enhanced soldiers
one day?

Future neurotechnologies will greatly improve treatment of neural diseases. However, since innovation is often led by military research, we'll most probably see more brain-enhanced soldiers in the future, yes.

Will the promises
of nanotechnology
outweigh its perils?

How can we be sure
all this is
safe & beneficial?

As a general-purpose technology, nanotech promises to be beneficial in many areas (e.g. materials, medicine, computing, energy and consumer goods). It is yet too early to be able to assess all possible ethical, health, safety or social implications. So for now, let's explore the exciting prospects while keeping an eye on potential downsides.

What about
out-of-control
nanoscale
self-replicating robots
?

You are a worrier, aren’t you? Most scientists today believe that this so-called ‘grey-goo’ scenario is very unlikely. This even includes US engineer Eric Drexler, who first coined the term.

Will robots &
artificial intelligence
take over?

What if robots
become super smart
and we’d be at their mercy?

There are many views on how a hypothetical above-human level intelligence enabled by technology might look like and what could happen then. As long as superintelligence remains remotely within the grasp of human understanding, there might be a chance of negotiation and co-existence.
If that’s not the case anymore,
best try to find the kill switch.

Don’t we live in
a virtual reality already?

We will most likely see more elaborated complete virtual realities that satisfy certain needs and provide some kinds of entertainment in the future. However, opinions diverge on how popular those worlds will become as the desirability of moving within them remains inscrutable for many. While not everyone is immersing themselves in a digital second life, augmenting reality by adding layers of information is definitely growing in importance. Google glasses, anyone?

Will machines
take all of our
remaining jobs?

Most economists believe this argument to be wrong and they even have a name for it: they call it the Luddite fallacy. This is what usually used to happen: Better technologies displace workers in the short run but trigger economic growth and help in creating jobs in new industries in the long run. But there's evidence that the argument of technology displacing workers could be right, after all. Automation has now started infiltrating even highly-skilled professions while at the same time not creating enough new labour-intensive jobs. We maybe just need to find a way to spread wealth and enjoy our free time.

Is everyone after my data
or am I just paranoid?

Yes, new security and surveillance systems as well as the data acquisition strategies of companies can seem rather scary. Up until now all your data is pretty much dispersed over various organisations that all know only certain aspects about you. It becomes more problematic if an entity finds a way of combining all information that's available. That's pretty much what Google or intelligence services are trying to do. So, yes, a little precaution on what to share and what data to provide is probably advisable.

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About

Geophysical disasters, global warming, robot uprising, zombie apocalypse, overpopulation and last but not least the end of the Mayan calendar... humanity faces many threats! Will we survive the end of this year? And if we do, what's next lurking around the corner? What is science fiction, what is science fact? Join us in exploring the world of existential risks – but always remember what Carl Sagan said:

'Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.'

Should I Be Afraid of the Future is a collaborative project by Bold Futures, who researched and developed the concept, Envisioning Technology, who crafted it all into the poster, and Ana Viegas, who expanded it into this website.

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

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Sources

Below you can find some of the resources we used during our research. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it features the sources we often returned to for guidance.

To those we haven't credited, please accept our apologies. We didn't forget you, just tried to make this list a little more manageable. Should you find that we have used your work in some way and would like us to either credit you here or have the content taken down, please get in touch with us and we will do our best to make you happy.

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