50 Percent Chance We’re Extinct Within 760 Years, Says ‘The Doomsday Calculation’ Author

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Doomsday Calculation
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A book called ‘The Doomsday Calculation” is taking a new look at an 18th-century mathematical approach to predicting anything within a 50 percent likelihood, including when the humans will be extinct.

Author William Poundstone based his approach in part on the Bayes theorem devised by British minister and mathematician Thomas Bayes. Bayes assigned probabilities to events that haven’t happened.

The theorem “languished in obscurity for centuries until computers came along and made it easy to crunch the numbers,” according to Amazon’s book description. “Now, as the foundation of big data, Bayes’ formula has become a linchpin of the digital economy.”

How does Bayes actually work?

“Bayes comes up with its predictions by using statistical measures on real data that actually occurred to see how features cause events to happen. Using these statistical measures, it is able to predict with certain probabilities of confidence,” according to DZone.

Poundstone used the Copernican method developed by Princeton University astrophysicist J. Richard Gott III to estimate a 50 percent chance that the human race will cease to exist within roughly 760 years, Daily Mail reported:

“The method is said to work to predict the likely length of existence of anything of an uncertain duration so long as it’s being encountered at a random point in time.”

Here’s how Poundstone explained his estimation of the end of humanity in 760 years in a Vox interview:

‘Demographers have estimated the total number of people who ever lived at about 100 billion. That means that about 100 billion people were born before me,’ Poundstone said. “Currently, about 130 million people are born each year. At that rate, it would take only about 760 years for another 100 billion more people to be born.

“That’s the basis of the claim that there’s a 50 percent chance that humans will become extinct within about 760 years. The flip side of the claim is there’s also a 50 percent chance we’ll survive past 760 years, possibly long past that.”

Reader reviews on Amazon were not universally adoring of the book.

“He comes up with the number of 760 but really doesn’t show how he got there,” wrote J. Groen. “He goes through some examples of application of Bayes Theorem … But, he doesn’t follow-up. Instead, we get lost in the usual physics mumbo jumbo about multi-universes, and how artificial intelligence is going make mankind extinct, etc. There probably is a rationale, but he doesn’t really show it. Such a disappointment.”

Reviewer Jake Banner bought into the idea that we are all doomed.

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“It’s amazing how many ways there are for us to screw up,” Banner wrote. But he liked Poundstone’s approach: “Of all the numerous approaches tackling doomsday predictions, Bayes’ rule provides the lynchpin for serious analysis. … The problem becomes increasingly difficult as we consider the current makeup of humans juxtaposed against our possible future selves. Extrapolating from where and who we are now into a future of augmented humans becomes problematic as our selection criteria changes.”