- NEW YORK (Reuters) - Scientists at the World Economic Forum
predicted on Friday a grim future replete with unprecedented biological
threats, global warming and the possible takeover of humans by robots.
- "Extreme pessimism seems to me to
be the only rational stance," said Sir Martin Rees, Britain's Astronomer
Royal, at a session devoted to the future threats and opportunities presented
by scientific advances.
- He was especially concerned about the
development of new biological weapons that could easily fall into the hands
of dissonant groups or individuals and cause widespread devastation.
- Even if governments tried to regulate
and limit the spread of dangerous technologies, Rees said such efforts
would probably be little better than current attempts to control the international
- A foretaste of what might lie ahead was
provided by the anthrax panic that gripped the United States last year
after several letters carrying the deadly germ agent were sent to political
leaders and media figures through the mail. The perpetrator has not been
- The forum, which brings together politicians,
business leaders, academics and intellectuals, has presented a number of
sessions devoted to science. However, few politicians have attended them,
preferring to devote themselves to discussions of foreign policy.
- At a session on climate change on Thursday,
Robert Watson who chairs an international panel on the issue said the earth's
climate would warm by at least 1.4 degrees centigrade in the next century
even if urgent action was taken right now to stem emissions of carbon dioxide.
If insufficient action was taken, warming could be as great as 5.8 degrees.
- He predicted more droughts in some areas
and floods in others, more intense cyclones and massive social and economic
disruption especially in poor countries.
- Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University
in England said that while rich nations could and would protect themselves
against flooding by building sea defenses, a nation like Bangladesh could
expect ever more frequent and severe flood disasters.
- Howard Ris, President of the Union of
Concerned Scientists, said climate change could well lead to future conflict
as nations found themselves confronted with unmanageable new challenges.
- "Climate change will become a security
issue," he said. "Hundreds of millions of people will find themselves
fighting new threats to survival."
- Another threat posed by science revolves
around the development of artificial intelligence which could eventually
blur the distinction between humans and robots.
- Rodney Brooks of the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology said: "It is not too far-fetched to see a situation
where we put implants into our brains before too long."
- Brooks said humans would become more
like robots as they implanted more and more technology into their bodies,
while robots would be based on biological material and become semi-human
in their own right.
- Robots were already taking a greater
role in warfare and might soon be capable of making their own battlefield
decisions without human control, he said.
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