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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Saturday, May 10, 2014

If Mankind Were To Perish, What Would Be Its Epitaph?

An epitaph is a short statement (often only a single sentence) honoring someone who has died, or summarizing his life. An epitaph is often written on a tombstone. Some classic epitaphs include the following:

Here lies dear old Fred
A great big rock fell on his head.

Here lies Lester Moore,
Four slugs from a 44
No Les, no More

Here lies the body
of Jonathan Blake
Stepped on the gas
Instead of the brake.

The death of an individual is sad to contemplate, but there is a possibility vastly sadder to ponder: the possibility of the entire human race becoming extinct. If that were to happen, perhaps someone or something might erect a memorial for the extinct human race. In such a gloomy case, what epitaph might be written for the human species?

The following would work pretty well as an all-purpose epitaph for the human species, no matter how we might become extinct:



But what about specific extinction scenarios? One possibility is that we might invent super-intelligent machines which learn how to make copies of themselves. The number of super-intelligent robots might grow larger and larger, and the number of humans might grow smaller. The new super-brainy robots might take over entirely. The new robotic species might keep us humans around for a while, but they might eventually decide: the only intelligent beings that should exist on this planet are super-intelligent beings. Then they might get rid of us fleshy humans entirely. In such a case they might erect a memorial for the vanished human race, and it might look like this:




Still another possibility is that the human race may become extinct because of a gradually deteriorating environment. Rather than cutting back our wasteful ways that put the planet in peril, we may continue spending more and more, shopping more and more, eating more and more, and driving more and more. This may cause global warming to get worse and worse. The result might be runaway global warming, as various feedback loops kick in, which cause global warming to accelerate more and more (such as the melting of methane deposits in Siberia and Antarctica). Temperatures may rise so high that the human race perishes. In such a case the following might be a suitable epitaph for mankind:



Another possibility is that the mankind may destroy itself in a war. There need not be any fancy technological breakthroughs for this to be a possibility, because the USA and Russia still have many thousands of nuclear weapons. One day they might be used, in a deliberate attack, or a war that escalates from a small-scale use of nuclear weapons due to an accidental launch or a limited launch by a madman. Or the human race might perish in some new type of war, such as a biological war using genetically engineered germs. In such a case, the following might be used as an epitaph for our species:


But let us hope that none of these gloomy epitaphs ever get written. Let us hope that instead someone one day writes a book that tells the story of the first million years of human civilization, a book that might look like this: