This book makes a convincing case that many things such as artificial intelligence, pandemic disease, sea-level rise, nuclear ice age, Internet of everything, meteor strike and CRISPR gene editing will bring humanity as we know it to an end. Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes by Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy is a fun read for people who are accepting of the fact that we live in a dangerous world that might crash at any minute. For everyone else, it will be a spine-tingling thriller that probably portends humanity’s future demise within a few decades if not our personal one in a few months.
Having departed from my young adult occupation as a B-47 H-bomber pilot back in 1960, I have lived under the realization of how easy it would be for those bombs to fall and our civilization to vanish. Consequently, I read Warnings with a cool head and a sanguine heart. I am basically a cheerful person but gloom and doom are not far beneath my pleasant exterior.
In my annual Probaway Person of the Year, which now has ten entries, there are five individuals who are creators of things that would fall into the book’s Warnings list: Albert Einstein and his promoting the creation of the American atomic bomb is one, and Jennifer Doudna and her creation of CRISPR is another.
Without any intent to have it so, I have had strange personal connections with top people in all of the new warning categories in Chapters 10 through 16. But what interested me most was the final chapter on what we could and should be doing to eliminate or at least mitigate the disasters that are already imminent.
Ouch; immediately we, you and I, hit a problem because the authors cut us out of the loop and put the responsibility for action exclusively into the hands of a rarified few people. The authors have been functioning at the White House level for much of their careers, and they limit the people whom they are willing to even consider listening to, to those very few people who are at the absolute pinnacle of their chosen field. The rest of us should go suck our thumbs like a bunch of spoiled children. Such statements as, “The White House, with its decision-making power, is best suited for creating and hosting such a forecasting office,” p. 355. This statement becomes truly chilling when we consider how unwilling our current president is to carefully analyze anything, let alone predicting and responding well before catastrophe strikes.
A few sentences later he mentions how one of the most informed people in Silicon Valley, Bill Joy, got to talk to the Chief of Staff, not the President, and nothing happened. Rock Stars can get interviews with the President, but not people who are really informed on a critical subject. That’s the definition of insane.
I came away from this basically good book with a realization that we humans are in deeper trouble than I imagined because of the mentality of the insiders. They talk about listening to Cassandras but then they put their fingers in their ears and their heads in the sand and they leave all of us with our asses sticking in the air.
It’s Nassim Taleb’s complaint in a new department. Only trust people who have skin in the game.