Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Greatest Race in History: Climate Change vs. Artificial Intelligence

In 2014, two technology historians authored a short essay called The Collapse of Western Civilization.  Naomi Oreskes of the University of California and Erik Conway of the California Institute of Technology assumed the role of a future historian from the Second People's Republic of China, writing in 2393 to mark the tercentenary of the end of Western Civilization (1540-2093).  

The essay is a reflection on what befell Earth and its people, searching throughout for an answer as to why the “children of the Enlightenment” failed to act on overwhelming information about climate change and the damage it would bring.  The only conclusion this future historian could reach was that Western Civilization had fallen into the grips of a second Dark Age “in which denial and self-deception, rooted in an ideological fixation on ‘free’ markets, disabled the world’s powerful nations in the face of tragedy.”

In other words, future historians would one day decide that we knew what was happening but were powerless to stop it.  Climate change would be seen as the great, slow-motion train wreck of our time.

According to this "future" history, the tipping point for the collapse of Western Civilization came in 2041 when a heatwave destroyed food crops around the world and incited rioting in virtually every major city.  With a mean global warming of 3.9 degrees Celsius, water and food rationing became universal.  Governments toppled.

Richer and better protected than most countries, the U.S. still saw great swaths of its farmland become desert.  The government announced plans with Canada to create a United States of North America to allow a northward population migration.

The second half of the twenty-first century included a devastating shutdown of the Indian monsoon, collapse of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet, some 70 percent extinction of species, and a Second Black Death.  Human life was decimated.