What are the odds?

Discussion in 'Science and Technology' started by rightwinger, Jun 25, 2010.

  1. rightwinger
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    rightwinger Paid Messageboard Poster Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

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    The last word: What are the odds? - The Week

    Chances of it happening by 2050

    Synthetic life
    Odds: Almost certain

    A scientist adds a few chemical compounds to a bubbling beaker and gives it a swirl. Subtle reactions occur, and, lo and behold, a new life form assembles itself, ready to go forth and prosper.

    Such is the popular imagining of synthetic biology, or life created in the lab. But even after last month’s announcement that researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute had successfully booted up a cell using a synthetically created genome, scientists remain far from understanding the basic processes that could allow inert, undirected compounds to assemble into living, self-replicating cells

    Asteroid collision
    Odds: Unlikely

    The good news is that no giant asteroids appear poised to rewrite history anytime soon. The bad news is that we can expect that in the next 200 years, a small space rock will burst into the atmosphere with enough force to devastate a small city.

    NASA classifies any asteroid or comet that comes within 195 million kilometers of
    the planet as a near-Earth object, or NEO. Of the estimated 1,100 that are one kilometer or more in diameter, 85 percent have been spotted, and none of those will collide with Earth.


    Nuclear exchange
    Odds: Unlikely

    The threat of global nuclear annihilation has been greatly reduced by the end of the Cold War and ongoing arms-control efforts by the U.S., Russia, and other countries. But rogue nations and continued tensions make a local exchange of nuclear firepower all too real a possibility.

    Self-aware robots
    Odds: Likely

    Today’s computers and robots are for the most part designed to perform specific tasks under known conditions. Tomorrow’s machines, though, could have more autonomy. They should be able to self-replicate, teach themselves, and adapt to different conditions. “As the kinds of tasks that we want machines to perform become more complex, the more we need them to take care of themselves,” says Hod Lipson, a mechanical and computer engineer at Cornell University. As machines get better at learning how to learn, he says, “I think that leads down the path to consciousness and self-awareness.”

    Cloning of a human
    Odds: Likely

    Ever since the birth of Dolly the sheep in 1996, human cloning has seemed inevitable. Yet despite the success scientists have had with other animals, the process had proved much more difficult in humans.

    Even with practiced efforts, some 25 percent of cloned animals have overt problems, Lanza notes. This is because minor slips during the reprogramming, culturing, or handling of the embryos can lead to developmental errors. Attempts to clone a human would be so risky, Lanza says, it “would be like sending a baby up into space in a rocket that has a 50-50 chance of blowing up.”

    If human cloning happens, it probably will be performed “in a less restrictive area of the world, probably by some wealthy eccentric individual,” Lanza conjectures.

    Polar meltdown
    Odds: Likely

    The U.S. is shrinking—physically. It lost nearly 20 meters of beach from its East Coast during the 20th century. The oceans have risen by roughly 6.7 inches since 1900 through expansion (warmer water taking up more space) and the ongoing meltdown of polar ice.

    That increase, however, is a small fraction compared with what’s to come. “Plan on 1 meter [of ocean rise] by the end of this century,” says glaciologist Robert Bindschadler, an emeritus scientist at NASA. “The heat in the ocean is killing the ice sheet.”

    Some of the famous predictions—Florida under 5 meters of sea-level rise and a gaping bay where Bangladesh used to be—may be centuries away. But because ice sheets are shrinking faster than scientists expected even a few years ago, expect an ice-free Arctic and different coastal contours by 2100
     
  2. Old Rocks
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    Old Rocks Diamond Member

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    On that first one, the unlikely happened in 1908, in Tanguska. That blast would have wiped out a large city. Had in happened in the '60s or '70s in eastern US or western USSR, it might well have triggered an all out nuclear exchange.
     

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