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Tags: Armstrong | probability | extinction | risk

4 Developments That Could Mean the End of the World

By    |   Friday, 13 February 2015 12:33 PM EST

Have you ever wondered what might pull the curtain on human existence?

Stuart Armstrong of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute and Dennis Pamlin of the Global Challenges Foundation have put together a list of 12 possibilities.

And what are the odds that one of them will happen? "Putting the risk of extinction below 5 percent would be wildly overconfident," Armstrong told the Financial Times.

Here are four of the risks, as reported by the Times.
  • Artificial intelligence. You've probably heard of this one. "But no one knows whether there is a real risk of extreme machine intelligence taking over the world and sweeping humans out of their way," the Times notes. Probability estimate: zero to 10 percent.
  • Global system collapse. That could be an economic and/or societal meltdown, leading to complete anarchy. Probability: too much uncertainty for an estimate.
  • Synthetic biology. "Genetic engineering of new super-organisms could be enormously beneficial for humanity. But it might go horribly wrong." Probability: 0.01 percent.
  • Nanotechnology. "Ultra-precise manufacturing on an atomic scale could create materials with wonderful new properties but they could also be used in frightening new weapons." Probability: 0.01 percent.
"The idea that we face a number of global challenges threatening the very basis of our civilization at the beginning of the 21st century is well accepted in the scientific community, and is studied at a number of leading universities. But there is still no coordinated approach to address this group of challenges and turn them into opportunities," Armstrong and Pamlin write in the report.

When it comes to investing, no mainstream experts are calling for an end of the world, but Nobel laureate economist Robert Shiller of Yale University has warned in recent months of the possibility of bubbles in stocks, bonds and real estate.

So it's no surprise to you that he warns against expecting strong investment returns in the future.

"Don't use your usual assumptions about returns going forward," Shiller tells CNBC. Stocks have historically returned about 9 percent a year, bonds about 5 percent and homes about 6 percent.

As for stocks, Shiller's cyclically-adjusted price-earnings ratio, which accounts for 10 years of earnings, is at a historical high. "It's very hard to predict turning points in markets, but it's definitely high," he notes.

As for bond yields, they "can't keep trending down" and "could [reach] a major turning point in coming years," Shiller argues.

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Have you ever wondered what might pull the curtain on human existence?
Armstrong, probability, extinction, risk
Friday, 13 February 2015 12:33 PM
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