Trinity in Japan dinner in Tokyo Friday 20 October 2017 at 7pm
All Fellows or members of Trinity College (Cambridge University) living in or visiting Tokyo are very welcome
The fee is again YEN 10,000 including a kaiseki menu and unlimited drinks for about 2 hours, please prepay the fee as always. Usually we go for nijikai nearby. (with kind support from the College, we may be able to offer a subsidized rate for students, interns or comparable, please let me know when you register in case you like to be considered).
Registration and prepayment deadline is Friday 13 October 2017. I will send location details and account details for prepayment to those who register.
notes written by Gerhard Fasol, based on Lord Martin Rees’ lecture notes and Gerhard Fasol’s notes taken during the lecture
This century is special – a new geological era, the Anthropocene
Earth existed for 45 million centuries, humans a few thousand centuries. This century is special: we are in a new epoch, the Anthropocene, its the first century where the future of earth depends on humans.
Humans could degrade the biosphere, or cause misdirected technology to destroy or diminish civilisation.
Martin Rees has written a book on these issues, the same book is entitled “Our final century” in the UK, and “Our final hour” in the USA, reflecting the contrast of British understatement and American emphasis on urgency.
Martin Rees did not think that humanity would extinguish itself, but feared that humans would be lucky to avoid serious setbacks, and nuclear armageddon was closely avoided during the cold war.
Nuclear weapons are based on 20th century science, in the 21th century we have created new existential risks based on bio, cyber and AI.
Population growth, urbanization and food
World population was about 3 billion in 1960, now exceeds 7 billion, and is forecast to reach 9 billion by 2050.
Urbanization continues, predictions are that 70% of people will live in cities by 2050, requiring excellence of governance.
Discussing population growth has become taboo, as predictions in the 1970s by the Club of Rome and others have proven wrong. Food shortages were predicted, improvements in food production technology prevented disasters.
Bio diversity: “mass extinction is the sin that future generations will least forgive us for”
Conserving our variety of species is not only about conserving food production and agriculture, there is also an ethical aspect. E O Wilson said: “mass extinction is the sin that future generations will least forgive us for”.
Charles David Keeling measured atmospheric CO2 concentrations at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory starting in 1958 and showed that atmospheric CO2 at the Mauna Loa Observatory rose from around 320 ppm in 1960 to around 400 ppm around 2015, with oscillations due to plant growth cycles around the year.
Economists Stern and Weizman argue that it is worth paying an insurance premium to protect future generations against worst-case scenarios, see the Stern Review.
Note that there are psychological factors: people generally don’t accept discounting the future where radioactivity is concerned: radioactive waste disposal is required to prevent leakage for 10,000 years.
The ethical question is: should we discriminate based on the date of birth?
Global warming: do we have a plan B?
CO2 levels will continue to rise, despite the Paris agreement. Pressure for panic measures might rise.
Geo-engineering measures (injecting aerosols into the stratosphere to cool the climate, carbon capture etc) are discussed, but are likely to lead to political nightmares: e.g. some cold areas in the world might actually want the climate to be warmer in their areas.
Two mitigation measures are politically realistic:
Energy efficiency (building insulation, lighting etc)
R&D into low carbon energy generation: renewables, grid technology, energy storage…
Bio risks and “gain of function”
“Gain of function”: in 2012 groups in Wisconsin and in Holland showed that it was relatively easy to make the influenza virus more virulent and more contagious, in 2014 the US Government decided to stop funding such “gain of function” experiments.
“Bio-hacking” is hard to control globally. Freeman Dyson asked, when children will be able to create new organisms and “play God on the kitchen table”.
Robotics and artificial intelligence
20 years ago IBM’s Deep Blue beat Kasparov, programmed by the world’s best chess players.
Last year Deep Mind (acquired by Google) beat the world champion of Go, however programed by machine learning.
Will robots and AI create more new employment than they eliminate – the old question of industrial revolutions, or a new paradigm?
Robots and AI machines could act orthogonal to the interests of human.
Are we responsible for the well being of intelligent robots?
Ray Kurzweil’s singularity. Ending your days in an English churchyard vs in a Californian refrigerator
Ray Kurzweil thinks that humans could transcend our biological limitations by fusing with machines. Humans could merge with computers.
For worry that this “singularity” transition might not come during his lifetime, Ray Kurzweil wants his body to be frozen to await the singularity to arrive, frozen by the “Society for the abolition of involuntary death”.
Lord Martin Rees prefers to end his days in an English churchyard rather than a Californian refrigerator, and has therefore been labeled an old fashioned “deathist”.
Lord Rees was amused to find out that at least three British academics are subscribing such a body freezing program, although one of these seems to have opted for the discount economy class option, where only the brain, not the whole body, is frozen…
Robots have a big future in space
Flotillas of miniaturized probes will explore the solar system eroding the case for human space flight.
Human space flight will be for adventurers, but there is no escape from earth. Space is too hostile for humans.
Life on other planets – we don’t even know how life started on our planet earth
There is no advanced life anywhere in our solar system. There might be freeze-dried bacteria on Mars, there might be creatures swimming under the ice on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
Most stars in the sky are orbited by planets, like our Sun. Could there be “twins” with similar conditions as our planet earth? Some have been found, and there could be millions in our Milky Way.
Could there be life?
We don’t even know how life started on our planet earth, and we don’t know if there are other forms of life beyond our life based on DNA/RNA chemistry.
Searching for signals from life on far away planets is worthwhile. If we can actually identify such signals this would prove that mathematics, logic and physics can be done by others outside our human sculls and brains.