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Five Existential Threats That Global Leaders Are Discussing at the World Economic Forum

A pre-forum report lays out a grim vision of the future, one rife with acidic oceans, rogue geoengineers, human cyborgs, and aliens.

by Greg Thomas
23 January 2013, 1:38am
Klaus Schwab, founder and president of the World Economic Forum (via)

How we choose to address such philosophical quandaries as "What will happen when we discover alien life?" and "What morality allows for a solution to overpopulation?" will be decided in part by the persuasive pitches of researchers looking for funding, and the pocketbooks of rich people looking to make a profit, when the two collide at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, today.

The forum is a non-profit foundation committed to improving the state of the world. One way to do that is to host a big conference once a year that connects business people with academics, politicians, and other thought leaders. To stimulate discussion, the forum releases a series of reports before the conference contemplating things like green economy investment, the global gender gap, international competitiveness.

The most intriguing report this year deals with global risks and includes a short list of worrisome "X factors", which the forum describes as "emerging concerns of possible future importance and with unknown consequences" and "hatching grounds for potential future risks." It's essentially a list of generalized conspiracy theories carefully situated in the grey space between the known and unknowns of potentially threatening human-driven environmental phenomena. The five X factors mentioned are:

1. "Runaway Chain Reaction" of Climate Change

The report calls for deeper research into the theory that, as the ice caps continue melting at an alarming rate, global warming will reach a "tipping point" from which the Earth's ecology will be "fundamentally disrupted." Taking that into account, we should be thinking about "how best to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to cope as Earth's climate auto-pilot mercilessly hurtles us towards a new and unknown equilibrium."

2. Significant Cognitive Enhancement, a.k.a. "Superhuman Abilities"

Hold onto your adamantium butts, X-Men fans. What if steroids become standard not only in professional sports, but in normal life too? What if a person on steroids was also popping Ritalin and fitted with retinal implants and magnets on their skulls? Why, they'd be like a super-person! Medical and technological breakthroughs around the corner are sure to enhance our bodies and minds, begging the question, "Will it be ethically accepted for the world to divide into the cognitively-enhanced and unenhanced?"

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