Timeline of existential risk

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This is a timeline of existential risk. According to the Future of Life Institute, "an existential risk is any risk that has the potential to eliminate all of humanity or, at the very least, kill large swaths of the global population, leaving the survivors without sufficient means to rebuild society to current standards of living".[1]

Sample questions

The following are some interesting questions that can be answered by reading this timeline:

  • What risk types are described in this timeline?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Risk type".
    • You will see both multiple risk types covered in one event, and single types, often impact events and nuclear weapons. Scientific concepts, such as entropy, are also included in this column.
  • What are some notable or sample conducted studies in the field of existential risk or directly related fields and sub-fields?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Research".
  • What are some organizations engaged in the study and prevention of global catastrophic risks?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Organization".
    • You will mostly see organizations engaged in preventing existential risks from multiple causes, but also some organizations specialized in one risk type.
  • What are some notable cases of incidents representing the possibility of global catastrophic risks at a major scale?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Sample case".
  • What are some events describing the probability of occurrence of a global catastrophic risks?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Probability".
    • You will see some calculations of risk, mainly on nuclear warfare and artificial intellicence.
  • What are some notable or sample publications on the topic?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Literature".
    • You will see a variety of publications, some treating the entire field of existential risk, and others specializing in one risk type.
  • What are some notable comments from prominent personalities, regarding the topic of existential risk?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Notable comment".
    • You will see comments by prominent people in the field of existential risk, such as Nick Bostrom, but also prominent personalities, like Albert Einstein and H.G. Wells.
  • What are some concepts introduced in relation to the topic of existential risk?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Concept development".
    • You will see the emergence of concepts related to the field, such as "existential risk", "supervolcano", etc.
  • What are some programs aimed to preserve species, data, and information, in case a catastrofic risk threatens their existence?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Preservation effort".
    • You will see some notable projects, such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
  • What are other programs launched by competitive entities with the purpose to combat existential risks?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Program launch".
    • You will mostly see programs launched to prevent impact events. Programs adressing other existential risks are also described.
  • Other events are described under the following types: "Budget", "Conference", "Document", "Field development", "Field growth", "Filmmaking", "International law", "Milestone event", "Open leter", "Policy", "Politics", "Project launch", "Scientific wager", "Space colonization", and "Statistics".

Big picture

Time period Development summary More details
19th century–1945 Early development Concerns about human extinction can be traced back to the 19th century[2], with geology unveiling a radically nonhuman past.[3] French scientist Georges Cuvier popularizes the concept of catastrophism in the early 1800s. The first near-Earth asteroid is discovered. Toward the first half of the twentieth century, chemical and biological weapons become a case of concern.
1945 onwards Atomic Age/anthropocene The nuclear holocaust becomes a theoretical scenario shortly after the beginning of this age, which starts following the detonation of the first nuclear weapon. In the 1950s, humanity enters a new age, facing not only existential risks from our natural environment, but also the possibility that we might be able to extinguish ourselves. During the 1960s, mutual assured destruction leads to the expansion of nuclear-armed submarines by both Cold War adversaries.[4] In the same decade, the anti-nuclear movement launches, and the environmentalist movement soon adopts the cause of fighting climate change.[5] Supervolcanoes are discovered in the early 1970s.[6] Global warming becomes widely recognized as a risk in the 1980s.[7] The term "existential threat", beginning to spread around the 1960–80s during the Cold War, takes off in the 1990s and early 2000s.[8]
21st century Field of study consolidation Nick Bostrom introduces the term "existential risk", which emerges as a unified field of study.[2] By the early 2000s, scientists identify many other threats to human survival, including threats associated with artificial intelligence, biological weapons, nanotechnology, and high energy physics experiments.[2] Unaligned artificial intelligence is recognized by some as the main threat within a century.[7] Today, it is understood that the natural risks are dwarfed by the human-caused ones, turning the risk of extinction into an especially urgent issue.[5]

Full timeline

Year Risk type Event type Details Country/location
Slightly over 66 million years ago Impact event Sample case The Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event occurs when a large asteroid, about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) in diameter, strikes Earth, causing a mass extinction in which 75% of plant and animal species on Earth became extinct, including all non-avian dinosaurs.[9] Mexico (Yucatán Peninsula)
1490 Impact event Sample case The Ch'ing-yang event occurs as a meteor shower or air burst in Qingyang, China.[10] More than 10,000 people are estimated to be killed by the meteoric event.[11] China
1577 Impact event Research Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe tries to measure the distance of a comet through its parallax. After this, the extraterrestrial nature of comets is recognized and confirmed.[12] Denmark
1694 Impact event Research English astronomer Edmond Halley presents a theory that Noah's flood in the Bible was caused by a comet impact.[13] United Kingdom (Kingdom of England)
1763 Multiple Concept development English statistician Thomas Bayes' solution to a problem of inverse probability is presented in the publication of An Essay towards solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances.[14] The Bayes theorem describes the probability of an event, based on prior knowledge of conditions that might be related to the event, thus providing rules for thinking about probabilities prior to any trials.[15] United Kingdom
1777 Heat death of the universe Research French astronomer Jean Sylvain Bailly becomes the first to put forward the conjecture that all bodies in the universe cool off, eventually becoming too cold to support life.[16][17] France
1778 Multiple Literature French naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopédiste Georges Buffon publishes Les époques de la nature, which theorizes that the Earth was created by molten matter expelled from the Sun. Buffon also provides first experimental calculations of the window of planetary habitability, arguing that eventually Earth will become irreversibly uninhabitable.[18]
1798 Overpopulation Literature English cleric, scholar and economist Thomas Robert Malthus publishes An Essay on the Principle of Population, which mathematically demonstrates the relationship between food and human population. Malthus argues that whenever food supply increases, population rapidly grows to eliminate the abundance resulting in perpetual human suffering unless we control human population.[19] Human overpopulation is considered a global catastrophic risk in the domain of earth system governance.[20] United Kingdom
1800 Multiple Research French naturalist and zoologist Georges Cuvier publishes paleontological paper under the title Mémoires sur les espèces d'éléphants vivants et fossiles. Cuvier demonstrates that elephantine bones unearthed in Siberia and North America belonged to mammoths and mastodons. Prior to this, the scientific community largely rejected the possibility that species could go extinct.[2] France
1815 Supervolcano Sample case Mount Tambora erupts in the island of Sumbawa, dispersing volcanic ash around the world and lowering global temperatures in an event sometimes known as the Year Without a Summer. Extreme weather and harvest failures follow, causing famine in China and Europe and triggering cholera outbreak in Bengal.[3] Indonesia
1826 Pandemic Literature English novelist Mary Shelley publishes The Last Man, which depicts Europe in the late 21st century, ravaged by a mysterious plague pandemic that rapidly sweeps across the entire globe, ultimately resulting in the near-extinction of humanity. This is first modern post-apocalyptic pandemic novel[21], and the first proper depiction of an existential catastrophe where nonhuman ecosystems continue after demise of humanity.[3] United Kingdom
1844 Omnicide Concept development Russian prince Vladimir Odoevsky writes a short story in which a future humanity, stricken with overpopulation and resource-depletion, welcomes a ‘Last Messiah’ who instructs a jaded mankind to commit omnicide by blowing up the planet.[22] According to Thomas Moynihan, this is the first speculation on omnicide.[3]
1859 Nature Literature Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species, which would succed in convincing the scientific community that evolution is a fact about the history of all Earth-originating life, metaphysically integrating humanity into the natural order. Before this book, the belief that an ontological gap separates humans from nature was prominent.[2] United Kingdom
1863 Weapons of mass destruction Deterrence theory French science fiction writer Jules Verne imagines a world in which “the engines of warfare were perfected to such a degree” that they brought peace to the world. The topic of deterrence theory, which is anticipated by Verne, would gain relevance in the atomic age. The general consensus is that, in theory, no one would have an incentive to start a nuclear war as long as no one could win.[4] France
1893 Multiple Literature Science fiction author H. G. Wells writes two non-fiction essays about the topic of human extinction, On Extinction and The Extinction of Man, though both clearly draw as much on his literary imagination as his scientific method.[2] United Kingdom
1898 Impact event Research 433 Eros is discovered by German astronomer C.G. Witt at the Berlin Observatory in an eccentric orbit between Mars and Earth.[23] It is the first near-Earth asteroid to be discovered.[24] Germany (Berlin Observatory)
1901 Multiple Literature H. G. Wells publishes Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought, followed by The Discovery of the Future. Both texts can be considered foundational for the academic field of Futures Studies. Wells contends that the scientific method can and should be used to predict future events, trends, and outcomes. He believes that by understanding the past and present, we can make more informed decisions about the future.[2] United Kingdom
1903 Multiple Notable comment English writer H.G. Wells gives a lecture at the Royal Institution, highlighting the risk of global disaster. Wells states:
It is impossible to show why certain things should not utterly destroy and end the human race and story; why night should not presently come down and make all our dreams and efforts vain. … something from space, or pestilence, or some great disease of the atmosphere, some trailing cometary poison, some great emanation of vapour from the interior of the earth, or new animals to prey on us, or some drug or wrecking madness in the mind of man.

Wells' pessimism would deepen in his later years, as he would live long enough to learn about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before dying in 1946.[25]

United Kingdom
1906 Geomagnetic reversal Research Magnetic field reversal is discovered. This is a major discovery as it shows that the Earth's magnetic field is not always the same.[26]
1907 Multiple Research English utilitarian philosopher and economist Henry Sidgwick becomes the first to note that human extinction would be “the greatest of conceivable crimes from a Utilitarian point of view. Total utilitarianism implies that humanity should not only strive for happiness, but create as much well-being as possible, including through the creation of as many humans with positive well-being as possible.[2] United Kingdom
1908 Impact event Sample case The Tunguska event occurs when an asteroid of about 200 feet in diameter explodes above Siberia with the force of a hydrogen bomb that would have have killed millions of people had it exploded above a major city. A much larger asteroid among the thousands of dangerously large objects in orbits that intersect the earth’s orbit, could strike the earth and cause the total extinction of humanity through a combination of shock waves, fire, tsunamis, and blockage of sunlight, wherever it struck.[25] Russia
1922 Technology Research German bacteriologist and anthropologist Paul Alsberg hypothesizes that human progress resulted in ‘physiological regression’. This is, instead of bodily adaptation, the evolutionary selection process in humans have shifted to the extra-bodily evolution of our technical tools, which triggers an ‘atrophy of the body’ as the ‘immediate consequence of it being superseded by the artificial tool’.[3](Loc 5629)
1924 Multiple Literature British statesman Winston Churchill publishes Shall We All Commit Suicide?, which would be considered an example of pure journalism helping to build the field of existential risk.[2] In his essay, Churchill argues that human survival depends on setting aside selfish materialism in favor of developing our capacities for “Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love”.[27] United Kingdom
1925 (June 17) Weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapon,biological weapon) International law The Geneva Protocol is signed with the purpose to ban the use of chemical and biological weapons.[28] It would enter into force on 8 February 1928.[29]
1929 Ultimate fate of the universe Research Edwin Hubble publishes his conclusion, based on his observations of Cepheid variable stars in distant galaxies, that the universe is expanding. From then on, the beginning of the universe and its possible end would be subjects of serious scientific investigation.[30] United States
1937 Impact event Sample case Asteroid 69230 Hermes is discovered when it passes the Earth at twice the distance of the Moon.[31]
1945 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Organization The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is founded by Manhattan Project scientists at the University of Chicago[32][33], upon being concerned about the consequences of their work. Two years later, the bulletin would create the iconic “Doomsday Clock”.[2] United States
1937 Omnicide Literature British writer Olaf Stapledon publishes science fiction novel Star Maker, which synthesizes ideas on longtermism into a comparative study of omnicide.[3] United Kingdom
1945 (July 16) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Milestone event The first nuclear detonation is conducted when a plutonium implosion device is tested at a site located 210 miles south of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Many scientists would suggest dating the beginning of the Anthropocene age to this event, stating that that Homo sapiens gained a position of unprecedented influence over the Earth system.[34] United States
1945 (August 6) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Milestone event Hiroshima becomes the first city targeted by a nuclear weapon, when the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) drops the atomic bomb "Little Boy" on the city.[35] Japan
1945 (August 9) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Milestone event Nagasaki becomes the second and, to date, last city in the world to experience a nuclear attack, when the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) drops the atomic bomb "Fat Man" on the city.[36] Japan
1945 (August 18) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Literature (article) Bertrand Russell publishes The Bomb and Civilization, which he had begun writing the day Nagasaki was bombed.[37] Russell writes:
The prospect for the human race is sombre beyond all precedent. Mankind are faced with a clear-cut alternative: either we shall all perish, or we shall have to acquire some slight degree of common sense. A great deal of new political thinking will be necessary if utter disaster is to be averted.[38]
United Kingdom
1947 Impact event Organization The Minor Planet Center is established by the International Astronomical Union at Cincinnati Observatory. It is responsible for collecting and disseminating positional measurements and orbital data for asteroids (minor planets) and comets.[39] United States
1947 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Probability The Doomsday Clock is introduced, and set seven minutes to midnight.[40] It is a symbol that represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe, in the opinion of the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.[41]
1948 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Notable comment Albert Einstein writes:
I advocate world government because I am convinced that there is no other possible way of eliminating the most terrible danger in which man has ever found himself. The objective of avoiding total destruction must have priority over any other objective.[26]
1948 Overpopulation Literature American ecologist William Vogt publishes Road to Survival[2], which argues that human population control is necessary to avoid an ecological catastrophe. This book constitutes an early warning of the dangers of overpopulation.[42]
1948 Environmental disaster Literature American conservationist Henry Fairfield Osborn Jr. publishes Our Plundered Planet[2], which warns of the environmental destruction caused by human activity. It is considered one of the earliest works on the subject of environmentalism.[43]
1949 Supervolcano Concept development The term "supervolcano" is first used in a volcanic context.[44]
1950 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Research In a letter to the editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Leo Szilard warns that it would be possible to rig an H-bomb with materials that would create enough fallout to kill everyone on earth. This would become known as a "cobalt bomb."[45] United States
1954 (March 1) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Milestone event The United States tests its largest thermonuclear weapon test in Bikini Atoll; the detonation being code-named “Castle Bravo”.[46] United States
1955 Multiple Literature (article) Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann publishes an article entitled Can We Survive Technology?[47][48], which alerts on the threats that may result from ever-expanding technological progress in a finite world.[49] Von Neumann discusses nuclear weapons, nuclear power, climate control, and automated systems, and believes that the difficulties and opportunities facing humanity are of great importance in having a bearing on future events.[50] United States (Fortune magazine)
1955 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Literature A group of prominent scientists, including Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, write what would come to be known as the Russell–Einstein Manifesto, according to which: “No one knows how widely such lethal radioactive particles might be diffused, but the best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with H-bombs might possibly put an end to the human race… sudden only for a minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disease and disintegration.”[2]
1958 Multiple Literature German mathematician Emil Julius Gumbel publishes Statistics of Extremes, which would become an important classic in extreme value theory, a branch of statistics dealing with the extreme deviations from the median of probability distributions.[51]
1960 Impact event Scientific development American geologist Eugene Merle Shoemaker definitively proves that some of the Earth’s craters were produced not by geological activity, but by vast meteoric impacts, far beyond any in recorded history.[26] United States
1960 Multiple Concept development English-American theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson in his paper Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation popularizes the concept of the later called Dyson sphere, a hypothetical megastructure that completely encompasses a star and captures a large percentage of its solar power output. Dyson speculates that such structures would be the logical consequence of the escalating energy needs of a technological civilization and would be a necessity for its long-term survival.[52] United States
1960 (October 5) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Sample case The world goes at the brink of nuclear war when a radar alert from Thule, Greenland is sent to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), announcing the detection of dozens of Soviet missiles launched for the United States.[53] NORAD headquarter in Colorado goes into a panic, but the latter is put to rest when it is realized that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev is visiting New York at the time. It would be later determined that the radar had mistaken the moon rising over Norway as Soviet missiles.[54] Greenland, United States
1960 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Concept development American nuclear physicist Herman Kahn introduces the concept "doomsday machine" in his book On Thermonuclear War. It is a hypothetical device that would automatically trigger a global nuclear holocaust in response to a nuclear attack.[55] United States
1960 Overpopulation Concept development Austrian American scientist Heinz von Foerster and his colleagues P. M. Mora and L. W. Amiot publishe their Doomsday equation formula in Science, predicting future population growth. The formula represents a best fit to available historical data on world population, and the authors then predict future population growth on the basis of this formula, which gives 2.7 billion as the 1960 world population and predicts that population growth would become infinite by Friday, November 13, 2026 – von Foerster's 115th birthday anniversary – a prediction that would earn it the name "the Doomsday Equation."[56] United States
1961 (April 12) Multiple Space colonization Soviet pilot and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human to journey into outer space[57], becoming also the first human face for space exploration, giving hope to humanity to survive outside of earth.[58][59] Soviet Union
1961 Scorched earth, multiple Literature (article) German astrophysicist Sebastian von Hoerner publishes an article entitled The Search for Signals from Other Civilizations, which discusses various factors that might affect the longevity of technological races and what this in turn would mean for the chances of success of SETI programs.[60] Von Hoerner suggests that sixty percent of all civilisations immolate themselves in planet-scorching war.[61][3](244) In the following years, he would expand his speculations on the longevity of civilizations, and the existential 'crises' they face, concluding that the civilizations that don't destroy themselves will instead face "irreversible stagnation".[62] Germany (Astronomical Calculation Institute (Heidelberg University)
1961 (November 24) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Sample case On an evening, communication links between Strategic Air Command headquarters (SAC HQ) and NORAD go dead, resulting in the lost communication with three Ballistic Missile Early Warning Sites (BMEWS) around the world, all of which were supposed to run on independent telephone and telegraph lines.[63] United States
1962 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Concept development Herman Kahn's Hudson Institute strategist Donald Brennan coins the term "mutual assured destruction", commonly abbreviated "MAD".[64], a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by an attacker on a nuclear-armed defender with second-strike capabilities would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender.[65]
1962 Climate change Literature Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring, which warns of the potential dangers of pesticide use.[66] Considered a pivotal early work, this book would become immensely popular, in addition to increasing scientific rigour and raising public awareness about the danger from chemical pesticides, such as DDT, chlordane, and heptachlor.[2] United States (Houghton Mifflin)
1962 (October 27) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Probability During the Cuban Missile Crisis, after a Soviet submarine B-59 loses contact with Moscow for days, the captain orders the use of a nuclear torpedo when a US ship begins dropping practice depth charges to make the submarine surface, with the Russian captain mistaking them for real depth charges, and concluding that war has begun. Aboard commander Vasili Arkhipov countermands the order to fire, thus preventing the nuclear strike and potentially an all-out nuclear war.[67][4] During the crisis, United States President John F. Kennedy would estimate the probability of escalation to nuclear conflict as between 33% and 50%.[68][69] Cuba, United States, Russia (Soviet Union)
1963 (August 5) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) International law The Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is signed with the purpose to ban all nuclear weapons tests except for those conducted underground.[70] It would enter into force on October 10, 1963.[71] With the signing of this treaty, the Doomsday Clock is moved back to twelve minutes to midnight.[4]
1964 Multiple Notable comment Soviet astrophysicist Iosif Shklovsky writes:
Profound crises lie in wait for a developing civilization and one of them may well prove fatal. We are already familiar with several such critical (situations):
  • Self-destruction as a result of a thermonuclear catastrophe or some other discovery which may have unpredictable and uncontrollable consequences.
  • Genetic danger.
  • Overproduction of information.
  • Restricted capacity of the individual's brain which can lead to excessive specialization, with consequent dangers of degeneration.
  • A crisis precipitated by the creation of artificial intelligent beings.[72]
Russia (Soviet Union)
1964 Impact event Literature Dandridge M. Cole and Donald W. Cox publish Islands in Space, which notes the dangers of planetoid impacts, both those occurring naturally and those that might be brought about with hostile intent. The authors argue for cataloging the minor planets and developing the technologies to land on, deflect, or even capture planetoids.[73] United States
1966 Artificial intelligence Research British mathematician Irving Good publishes paper entitled Speculations concerning the first ultraintelligent machine, which posits that such AI would be “the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.”[2] Good speculates that artificial general intelligence might bring about an intelligence explosion.[74] United Kingdom
1967 (January 27) Weapons of mass destruction International law The Outer Space Treaty is opened for signature in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, with the purpose to ban stationing of weapons of mass destruction in space.[75] It would enter into force on October 10, 1967.[76] United States, United Kingdom, Russia (Soviet Union)
1967 (May 23) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Sample case A major solar flare causes radars at all three Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) sites in the far Northern Hemisphere to become jammed, the latter being a signal of attack.[77] United States
1967 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Notable comment Hungarian-British essayist Arthur Koestler writes:
[B]efore the thermonuclear bomb, man had to live with the idea of his death as an individual; from now onward, mankind has to live with the idea of its death as a species. The bomb has given us the power to commit genosuicide; and within a few years we should even have the power to turn our planet into a nova, an exploding star. Every age has had its Cassandras [and] mankind has managed to survive regardless of their sinister prophecies. But this comforting argument is no longer valid, as no past age, however convulsed by war and pestilence, has possessed our newly acquired power over life on the planet as a whole.[78]
United Kingdom
1967 Impact event Research Students in the Aeronautics and Astronautics department at MIT conduct a design study, "Project Icarus", of a mission to prevent a hypothetical impact on Earth by asteroid 1566 Icarus.[79] The design project would be later published in a book by the MIT Press[80] and receive considerable publicity, for the first time bringing asteroid impact into the public eye.[81]
1968 (July 1) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) International law The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is signed to prevent nuclear proliferation, promote nuclear disarmament, and promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy.[82] It would enter into force on March 5, 1970.[83] Rusia (Moscow, United Kingdom (London), United States (Washington D.C.)
1968 Overpopulation Literature American biologist Paul R. Ehrlich publishes The Population Bomb.[84] This book would receive wide public attention, warning about the catastrophic impacts of overpopulation, and arguing that human overpopulation would lead to widespread famine by the 1970s and 1980s.[2] United States
1969 Gamma-ray burst Scientific development Scientists discover a new and distinctive type of stellar explosion[26] when the first gamma-ray burst is found.[85] A high-energy astronomical event, its release of vast amounts of energy could conceivably harm biospheres at astronomical distances, with radiation penetrating the atmosphere, a resulting ultraviolet flash, possible Air shower (physics), and formation of nitrous oxides that deplete the ozone layer, producing acid rain, and causing multiyear cooling climate effects that if, intense enough, could plausibly cause a mass extinction.[86]
1969 Weapons of mass destruction (biological weapon) Literature (article) Just prior to Richard Nixon announcement of new U.S. initiatives towards the regulations of biological weapons[87], Joshua Lederberg of Stanford University publishes Biological warfare and the extinction of man, which argues that the use of biological weapons could lead to the extinction of humanity. Leberberg cites the uncontrollable nature of infectious agents compared to nuclear weapons, which allow the possibility at least to be confident of the laws of scaling, as the destruction of targets can be calculated from simple physical measures like the energy released, a control impossible to apply to biological weapons.[2][88] United States (Stanford University)
1969 (July 20) Multiple Space colonization United States astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle, and Armstrong becomes the first person to step onto the Moon. This is another milestone event towards space colonization, which can be considered a hedge against existential risk.[89] United States
1971 (February 11) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) International law The Seabed Arms Control Treaty is signed, with the purpose to ban stationing of weapons of mass destruction on the ocean floor. It would enter into force on May 18, 1972.[90]
1972 (April 10) Weapons of mass destruction (biological weapon) International law The Biological Weapons Convention is signed, with the purpose to comprehensively ban biological weapons.[91] It would enter into force on March 26, 1975.[92]
1972 Multiple Preservation effort The San Diego Zoo establishes the first "frozen zoo" program. A “frozen zoo” is a cryonic facility for the long term preservation of animal and plant genetic material such as skin cells, DNA, sperm, eggs, and embryos.[93] United States
1972 Economic growth Literature The Club of Rome publishes a report called The Limits to Growth[3], which warns of the dangers of unchecked economic growth. The report suggests that the world was on a path to economic and environmental disaster, and that action needed to be taken to prevent this. Its conclusions are stark: “If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years.”[2]
1974 (August 1) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Sample case As a result of the Watergate scandal, United States President Richard Nixon becomes clinically depressed, emotionally unstable, and drinking heavily. As a mode of precaution U.S. Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger instruct the Joint Chiefs of Staff to route “any emergency order coming from the president”—such as a nuclear launch order— through him first.” [94] United States
1975 Multiple Concept development American astrophysicist Michael H. Hart publishes an early detailed examination of the Fermi paradox.[95][96]:27–28[97]:6 He argues that if intelligent extraterrestrials exist, and are capable of space travel, then the galaxy could have been colonized in a time much less than that of the age of the Earth. However, there is no observable evidence they have been here, which Hart called "Fact A".[97]:6 United States
1976 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Notable comment Iosif Shklovsky argues that global self-destruction is the result of capitalist ideology, which doesn't take into account a potential ‘communist transformation of society’ which would ‘remove the very possibility of such crisis situations’.[98] Russia (Soviet Union)
1979 Climate change Research The range of climate sensitivity is first put forward from 1.5°C to 4.5°C, a range adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and that would barely change over the next forty years.[99] Worldwide (United Nations)
1979 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Literature The United States Congress' Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) publishes The Effects of Nuclear War,[100] a study examining the full range of effects that nuclear war would have on civilians: direct effects from blast and radiation; and indirect effects from economic, social, and politicai disruption. Particular attention is devoted to the ways in which the impact of a nuclear war would extend over time.[101] United States
1979 Multiple Literature Isaac Asimov publishes A Choice of Catastrophes: The Disasters That Threaten Our World, an early book-length nonfiction treatment of possible existential catastrophes.[2] United States
1979 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Literature American engineer Cresson Kearny publishes Nuclear War Survival Skills: Lifesaving Nuclear Facts and Self-Help Instructions, which aims to provide a general audience with advice on how to survive conditions likely to be encountered in the event of a nuclear catastrophe, as well as encouraging optimism in the face of such a catastrophe by asserting the survivability of a nuclear war.[102] United States
1980 Collapse of the vacuum Scientific development Theoretical physicists Sidney Coleman and Frank De Luccia calculate for the first time that any bubble of true vacuum would immediately suffer total gravitational collapse.[103][104] United States
1980 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Research The earliest appearance of a connection between space exploration and human survival appears in Louis J. Halle, Jr.'s article in Foreign Affairs, in which he states colonization of space will keep humanity safe should global nuclear warfare occur.[105] United States
1980 Impact event Organization Spacewatch is founded by Tom Gehrels and Robert S. McMillan as a research group of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona in Tucson, with the purpose to be the first to use electronic detectors to discover NEAs and to explore the various populations of small objects in the solar system.[106][107] United States
1980 Impact event Scientific development A team of scientists led by Luis Walter Alvarez and his son Walter Alvarez discover that the geological boundary between the Cretaceous and Palaeogene periods is rich in iridium, an element markedly more common in asteroids than on the Earth’s surface, where it's extremely rare. The team concludes with what would be called the Alvarez hypothesis, which posits that the impact of a large asteroid on the Earth could have caused the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, which killed the dinosaurs.[26][2] United States
1980 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Literature Survival expert Bruce Clayton publishes Life After Doomsday[108], which attempts to provide a comprehensive guide to surviving a nuclear disaster, including detailed instructions on how to build and defend a shelter, store food, treat illnesses and injuries, and cope with the psychological effects of such an event.[109] United States}} (Paladin Press)
1980 Multiple Scientific wager In what is known as the Simon–Ehrlich wager, American professor Julian Simon and American biologist Paul Ehrlich, bet on the future of natural resource prices as a vehicle for their public debate about mankind's future. Simon challenges Ehrlich, which dismisses and mocks the optimistic views of Simon, to a wager over a 10-year period, to judge who was right about resource availability. Simon would ultimately win, and his victory would be used as evidence that innovation can offset material scarcity induced by human economic activity.[110] On a deeper level, the Simon–Ehrlich wager can be regarded as a conflict of visions concerning the future of humanity.[111] United States
1981 Impact event Field development Inspired by the Alvarez hypothesis, American astronomer Carolyn S. Shoemaker convenes a seminal meeting, founding the scientific field of impact hazards.[26] United States
1981 Pandemic Sample case HIV/AIDS is first recognized with reports of an unusual pneumonia in men who have sex with men caused by Pneumocystis carinii and previously seen almost exclusively in immunocompromised subjects.[25] For years this disease would remain a death sentence, spreading to all continents and lowering life expectancy in many countries in Africa.[112]
1982 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Literature American author Jonathan Schell publishes The Fate of the Earth, which would be regarded as a key document in the nuclear disarmament movement.[113] By the time of this publication, there are almost 60,000 nuclear weapons stockpiled with a destructive force equal to roughly 20,000 megatons (20 billion tons) of TNT, or over 1 million times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.[25][2] United States
1983 Multiple Research American historian W. Warren Wagar argues that science fiction played a significant role in the development of the academic field of futures studies.[2] United States
1983 Multiple Concept development British cosmologist Brandon Carter frames the "Doomsday argument", a probabilistic argument that claims to predict the future number of members of the human species given an estimate of the total number of humans born so far.[114] United Kingdom
1983 (September 26) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Sample case A newly inaugurated Soviet early-warning satellite system causes a nuclear false alarm, leading to widespread panic and confusion.[115] Russia (Soviet Union)
1984 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Literature Carl Sagan and Paul Ehrlich publish The Cold and the Dark, a book discussing long-term biological consequences of nuclear war.[2]
1984 Bioterrorism Sample case The Rajneeshee bioterror attack occurs when a group of prominent followers of Rajneesh spread the enteric bacterium, Salmonella typhimurium, onto salad bars in The Dalles, Oregon, causing illness in over 750 people and sending many to hospitals.[25] United States
1984 Multiple Literature British philosopher Derek Parfit publishes Reasons and Persons, which partly discusses population ethics. It raises questions about whether it can be wrong to create a life, whether environmental destruction violates the rights of future people, and so on.[116]
1985 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Politics 54-year-old Mikhail Gorbachev is appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. While his full intentions would remain unclear, Gorbachev's moderate liberalization measures would result in the dissolution of the Soviet Union.[25] Historian Yuval Noah Harari would call Gorbachev an historical hero, for probably saving the world from nuclear war.[117] Russia (Soviet Union)
1986 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Statistics The global size of the nuclear arsenals peaks at 70,000 warheads.[26] Countries with nuclear weapons
1986 Nanotechnology Concept development Nanotechnology pioneer K. Eric Drexler coins the term gray goo in his book Engines of Creation.[118] Gray goo is a hypothetical global catastrophic scenario involving molecular nanotechnology in which out-of-control self-replicating machines consume all biomass on Earth while building more of themselves[119], a scenario that would be called ecophagy (the literal consumption of the ecosystem).[120][25][2]
1986 Technology Organization The Foresight Institute is founded by K. Eric Drexler "to help prepare society for anticipated advanced technologies", mainly nanotechnology.[121][122]
1986 Multiple Organization The Center for Security and International Cooperation is formed at Stanford University.[123] It is a hub for researchers tackling some of the world's most pressing security and international cooperation problems.[124] United States
1986 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Literature Lydia Dotto publishes Planet Earth in Jeopardy: Environmental Consequences of Nuclear War, A distillation of the report by the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), written for a lay audience. It explores the climatic and atmospheric changes induced, radiation and fallout, and the putative biological consequences of nuclear war.[125]
1987 Technology Research American political scientist Aaron Wildavsky proposes that cultural orientations such as egalitarianism and individualism frame public perceptions of technological risks. Since then, a body of empirical research would grow to affirm the risk-framing effects of personality and culture.[25] United States
1987 (September 16) Multiple The Montreal Protocol is an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances that are responsible for ozone depletion. Entering into force on 1 January 1989, it would result in the ozone hole in Antarctica slowly recovering. This can be considered an example of global coordination resulting in positive outcome. All United Nations members, as well as the Cook Islands, Niue, the Holy See, the State of Palestine and the European Union
1988 Impact event Progream launch The United States, the European Union, and other nations begin scanning the sky for near-earth objects in an effort called Spaceguard.[126] United States, European Union, other
1988 Climate change Organization American scientist James Hansen testifies to the United States Congress that climate change is already underway. In the same year, the World Meteorological Organization establishes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which would since produce five reports summarizing the state of the science on climate change.[4] United States
1988 Supervolcano Research According to Rampino et al., the injection of massive amounts of volcanic dust into the stratosphere by a super-eruption such as Toba might be expected to lead to immediate surface cooling, creating a volcanic winter.[127] [25]
1989 (March 23) Impact event Sample case 300 m (980 ft) diameter Apollo asteroid 4581 Asclepius (1989 FC) misses the Earth by 700,000km. If the asteroid had impacted it would have created the largest explosion in recorded history, equivalent to 20,000 megatons of TNT. This event would attract widespread attention because it was discovered only after the closest approach.[128]
1991 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Sample case The Nunn–Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program is initiated upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when the risk of "loose nukes" prompts a new wave of government, academic, and popular concern about nuclear terrorism. The program provides funding and expertise to partner governments in the former Soviet Union to secure and eliminate weapons of mass destruction at the source.[129][25]
1991 Multiple Project launch Biosphere 2 is completed. It is a massive scientific facility meant to simulate Earth's ecosystems.[130] It is originally meant to demonstrate the viability of closed ecological systems to support and maintain human life in outer space as a substitute for Earth's biosphere.[131] United States
1992 Multiple Document The World Scientists' Warning to Humanity is writen by Henry Way Kendall, a former chair of the board of directors of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and signed by about 1,700 leading scientists, including a majority of the Nobel Prize laureates in the sciences.[132] United States
1992 Greenhouse effect Research According to Caldeira and Kasting, the end of complex life may come in 0.9-1.5 billion years owing to the runaway greenhouse effect.[25] According to the researchers, when the Sun becomes too bright, it will drive a runaway greenhouse effect through the Earth’s atmosphere.[25][133] United States
1992 Impact event Recommendation In a report to NASA, a coordinated Spaceguard Survey is recommended to discover, verify and provide follow-up observations for Earth-crossing asteroids. This survey is expected to discover 90% of these objects larger than one kilometer within 25 years.[134] United States (NASA)
1992 Bioterrorism Sample case The doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo sends a medical team to Zaire in what would be believed to have been an attempt to procure Ebola virus[135]. While an unsuccessful attempt, this event provides an example of a terrorist group apparently intending to make use of a contagious virus.[25] Japan, Congo DR
1992 (September 3) Weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapon) International law The Chemical Weapons Convention is signed to comprehensively ban chemical weapons.[136] It would enter into force on April 29, 1997.[137]
1993 Bioterrorism Sample case The United States Congress' Office of Technology Assessment finds that a single 100 kg load of anthrax spores, if delivered by aircraft over a crowded urban setting, depending on weather conditions, could result in fatalities ranging between 130,000 and 3 million individuals.[25] United States
1993 Impact event Research American geophysicist H. J. Melosh with I. V. Nemchinov propose deflecting an asteroid or comet by focusing solar energy onto its surface to create thrust from the resulting vaporization of material.[138] United States
1994 Impact event Program launch The United States Congress issues NASA the directive to find and track 90 percent of all near-Earth Objects greater than one kilometer across, a task that would be completed in 2011, for a total cost of less than $70 million.[139][26] United States
1995 Impact event Recommendation A NASA report recommends search surveys that would discover 60–70% of short-period, near-Earth objects larger than one kilometer within ten years and obtain 90% completeness within five more years.[140] United States (NASA)
1995 Impact event Program launch Following the 1994 Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet impacts with Jupiter, Edward Teller proposes, to a collective of U.S. and Russian ex-Cold War weapons designers in a planetary defense workshop meeting at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), that they collaborate to design a one-gigaton nuclear explosive device, which would be equivalent to the kinetic energy of a 1km diameter asteroid.[141][142][143] United States
1995 (January 25) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Sample case The Norwegian rocket incident occurs when a Norwegian-U.S. scientific weather rocket is mistaken by Russian radar operators for a nuclear attack.[144] Russian President Boris Yeltsin is prompted to activate his nuclear briefcase to contemplate launching in retaliation. [145] Russia
1995 Impact event Research The concept of asteroid laser ablation is articulated in a white paper entitled Preparing for Planetary Defense. Similar to the effects of a nuclear device, it is thought possible to focus sufficient laser energy on the surface of an asteroid to cause flash vaporization/ablation to create either in impulse or to ablate away the asteroid mass.[146]
1995 Bioterrorism Sample case The Tokyo subway sarin attack occurs when members of the cult movement Aum Shinrikyo released sarin on three lines of the Tokyo Metro, killing 13 people, and severely injuring 50.[147] ReligiousTolerance.org says that Aum Shinrikyo is the only religion known to have planned Armageddon for non-believers.[148] Japan
1996 (March 26) Impact event Organization The Spaceguard Foundation is established in Rome.[149] It works to promote and coordinate activities for the discovery and characterization of near-Earth objects.[150] Italy
1996 Multiple Literature Canadian philosopher John A. Leslie publishes The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction, which examines the various ways that humanity could come to an end, such as through nuclear war, environmental disaster, or disease, and evaluates the ethical implications of each.[151] This work contributes to the foundation of the field of existential risk studies.[2] Leslie estimates that if the reproduction rate drops to the German or Japanese level the extinction date will be 2400.[151] United Kingdom (Routledge)
1996 Multiple Preservation effort The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership begins. It is an international conservation project with the purpose to provide an "insurance policy" against the extinction of plants in the wild by storing seeds for future use in large underground frozen vaults preserving the world's largest wild-plant seedbank or collection of seeds from wild species.[152] United Kingdom
1996 Impact event Research Planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker proposes deflecting a potential impactor by releasing a cloud of steam in the path of the object, hopefully gently slowing it.[153]
1996 Supervolcano Research According to Bekki et al., volcanic aerosols have a longer residence time of several years compared to a few months for fine dust, therefore a huge eruption might be expected to have a longer lasting effect on global climate than an impact producing a comparable amount of atmospheric loading.[25]
1996 (September 10) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) International law The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty is signed to ban all nuclear weapons tests.[154] As of 2022, it is not in force.[155]
1997 Climate change Research According to Toon et al., the major effect on civilization would be through collapse of agriculture as a result of the loss of one or more growing seasons. This would be followed by famine, the spread of infectious diseases, breakdown of infrastructure, social and political unrest, and conflict.[25]
1997 Epizootic Sample case An outbreak in Taiwan of the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease, causes the slaughter of 8 million pigs and brings exports to a halt, with estimated costs of $20 billion. This case exemplifies how threats to agriculture, livestock, and crops, which can cause major economic damage and loss of confidence in food security, should not be overlooked.[25] Taiwan
1998 Impact event Program launch The United States Congress gives NASA a mandate to detect 90% of near-earth asteroids over 1km diameter (that threaten global devastation).[156][157] United States (NASA)
1998 (August 13) Multiple Organization The Mars Society is founded by Robert Zubrin. It is a nonprofit organization that works to educate the public, the media and the government on the benefits of exploring Mars and creating a permanent human presence on the planet. Headquartered in Lakewood, Colorado, it is based on Zubrin's Mars Direct plan, which aims to make human mission to Mars as lightweight and feasible as possible.[158] Members include Buzz Aldrin and Elon Musk. United States
1998 (December 6) Artificial intelligence Research In one message from Nick Bostrom to artificial intelligence theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky on the Extropians mailing list[159], inline quotations show Yudkowsky arguing that it would be good to allow a superintelligent AI system to choose own its morality. Bostrom responds that it's possible for an AI system to be highly intelligent without being motivated to act morally, explaining an early version of the orthogonality thesis[160], which states that an agent can have any combination of intelligence level and final goal.[161] Yudkowsky would reverse his opinion, devoting the rest of his career so far trying to reduce AI risks, and prevent AI-related catastrophe. United States
1999 Weapons of mass destruction (biological weapon) Literature Ken Alibek and Stephen Handelman publish Biohazard: the Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World-Told from the Inside by the Man who Ran it.[162] United States (Random House)
1999 Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider Research Arnon Dar publishes research on high energy physics experiments, and the possibility of relativistic heavy-ion colliders destroying the planet.[163][2] Israel (Technion – Israel Institute of Technology)
2000 Pandemic Organization The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network is established.[164] It provides international public health resources to control outbreaks and public health emergencies worldwide.[165]
2000 Multiple Research Corey S. Powell and Diane Martindale publish an article describing 20 scenarios of how the world could end suddenly: asteroid impact, gamma ray burst, collapse of the vacuum, rogue black holes, giant solar flares, reversal of earth's magnetic field, flood-basalt volcanism, global warming, ecosystem collapse, biotech disaster, particle accelerator mishap, nanotechnology disaster, environmental toxins, robots take over, mass insanity, alien invasion, and divine intervention.[166] United States (Discover Magazine)
2000 Particle Accelerator Mishap Research The director of the Brookhaven Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, prompted by the possibility that the experiments that physicists carry out in particle accelerators might pose an existential risk, commissions an official report, after concerns resurface with the construction of powerful accelerators such as CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.[25] United States
2000 Artificial intelligence Research Bill Joy suggests that if AI systems rapidly become super-intelligent, they may take unforeseen actions or out-compete humanity.[167]
2000 Pandemic Sample case The genome of the extinct influenza virus of 1918 (A virus subtype H1N1) is resurrected piece by piece from preserved human lung tissue.[25]
2000 Artificial intelligence American cognitive and computer scientist Marvin Minsky raises the subject of the Riemann Hypothesis Catastrophe, that an AI asked to solve the Riemann Hypothesis would convert the Solar System into computronium, a material hypothesized by Norman Margolus and Tommaso Toffoli of MIT in 1991 to be used as "programmable matter".[168]
2000 Artificial intelligence Organization The Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) is founded as the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence by Brian Atkins, Sabine Atkins and Eliezer Yudkowsky[169], with the purpose of accelerating the development of artificial intelligence.[170][171][172] After Yudkowsky begins to be concerned that AI systems developed in the future could become superintelligent and pose risks to humanity,[170], the institute would move in 2005 to Silicon Valley and begin to focus on ways to identify and manage those risks, which are at the time largely ignored by scientists in the field.[172] Today, MIRI is an independent non-governmental organizations (NGO), with the purpose to reduce the risk of a catastrophe caused by artificial intelligence.[173] United States
2001 (January 1) Multiple Eschatology Graham Oppy publishes paper Physical Eschatology, in which he reviews evidence which strongly supports the claim that life will eventually be extinguished from the universe.[174] Occasionally the term "physical eschatology" is applied to the long-term predictions of astrophysics about the future of Earth and ultimate fate of the universe.[175][176] Australia
2001 (January) Biotechnology Sample case A group of Australian researchers unintentionally change characteristics of the mousepox virus while trying to develop a virus to sterilize rodents, creating a virus that kills them by crippling their immune system.[177][178] The modified virus becomes highly lethal even in vaccinated and naturally resistant mice.[179] Australia
2001 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Organization The Nuclear Threat Initiative is formed.[180] It is a nonprofit, nonpartisan global security organization focused on reducing nuclear and biological threats.[181]
2001 Environmental disaster Program launch The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is launched.[182] It is a four-year international scientific assessment of the condition of Earth's ecosystems, potential impacts of changes to ecosystems on their ability to meet human needs, and policies, technologies, and tools to improve ecosystem management.[183]
2001 Environmental disaster Sample case 2 million trees are destroyed in Florida in an effort to contain a natural outbreak of Xanthomonas campestris, a bacterium that threatening the state's citrus industry and for which there is no cure. This event demonstrates that crops can be particularly vulnerable to an attack.[25] United States
2001 Environmental disaster Research Analyses of the fossil record by Alroy et al. suggest that recovery to former diversity levels from even severe environmental disasters may be more rapid than had previously been thought.[25]
2001 (September–October) Bioterrorism Sample case The 2001 anthrax attacks occur when anthrax spores through the mail cause 17 illnesses and 5 deaths in the United States in.[25] United States
2002 Multiple Concept development Nick Bostrom publishes a seminal paper, which defines existential risk as "One where an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential".[3] "we date the beginning of Existential Risk studies as a unified field of research to the 2002 paper Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios and Related Hazards (Bostrom 2002) by Nick Bostrom"[2]
2002 Weapons of mass destruction Program launch The G-8 Global Partnership arranges a target of 20 billion dollars to be committed over a 10-year period for the purpose of preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons and materials of mass destruction.[25]
2002 Multiple Organization SpaceX is founded by Elon Musk, with the goal of reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars.[184] United States
2002 Artificial intelligence Notable comment According to philosopher Nick Bostrom, it is possible that the first super-intelligence to emerge would be able to bring about almost any possible outcome it valued, as well as to foil virtually any attempt to prevent it from achieving its objectives.[185]
2002 (October 7) Impact event Organization B612 Foundation is founded[186] with the goal "to develop tools and technologies to understand, map, and navigate our solar system and protect our planet from asteroid impacts."[187] United States
2002 (December) Nanotechnology Organization Mike Treder and Chris Phoenix found the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology.[188]
2003 Multiple Literature British Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees publishes Our Final Hour.[189] A celebrated cosmologist, Rees offers a ‘scientist’s warning’ that humanity faces unprecedented challenges in the 21st century. Rees concludes that the probability of civilization surviving the next 100 years is perhaps 50%.[2] United Kingdom
2003 Impact event Budget A NASA study of a follow-on program suggests spending US$250–450 million to detect 90% of all near-Earth asteroids 140 meters and larger by 2028.[190] United States (NASA)
2003 Climate change Sample case The 2003 European heat wave results in seventy thousand deaths. While heatstroke is not the only risk from catastrophic climate change, it is among the most potent.[4] Europe
2004 Multiple Organization The Global Risk Network is established,[191] by the World Economic Forum in an attempt to bring together cross-sectoral responses to a new set of emerging global risks.[192]
2004 Pandemic Sample case SARS escapes from the National Institute of Virology in Beijing[26] when a graduate student develops symptoms just two weeks after she started working at the virology institute.[193] China
2004 Weapons of mass destruction (biological weapon) Literature Luther E. Lindler, Frank J. Lebeda and George Korch publish Biological Weapons Defense: Infectious Disease and Counterbioterrorism, which provides an overview of the threat of biological weapons and the measures that could be taken to protect against them.[194]
2004 Multiple Literature American economist Richard Posner publishes Catastrophe: Risk and Response,[195] which examines four risks whose worst cases could end advanced human civilization or worse: impact events, a catastrophic chain reaction initiated in high-energy particle accelerators, climate change, and bioterrorism.[196] United States (Oxford University Press, USA)
2005 Multiple Organization The Future of Humanity Institute is founded.[197] Located at University of Oxford, it is a multidisciplinary research center enabling researchers to use mathematics, science, and philosophy to bear on big-picture questions about humanity and its prospects.[198] United Kingdom (University of Oxford)
2005 (March) Impact event Policy The George E. Brown, Jr. Near-Earth Object Survey Act. is introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). Named in honor to United States Representative George Brown Jr. for his commitment to planetary defense, the bill has the purpose "to provide for a Near-Earth Object Survey program to detect, track, catalogue, and characterize certain near-Earth asteroids and comets".[199] United States
2005 Pandemic Literature Jo Hays publishes Epidemics and Pandemics: Their Impacts on Human History, which details the devastating effects that major outbreaks have had on society throughout the ages. Hays argues that epidemics and pandemics are not simply medical problems, but also social and economic ones that can have a profound impact on a community.[200]
2005 Technology Literature Jared Diamond publishes Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, in which the author first defines collapse: "a drastic decrease in human population size and/or political/economic/social complexity, over a considerable area, for an extended time." Diamond argues that history presents several examples of the phenomenon in which technologies that are desirable in themselves can get out of control, leading to catastrophic exhaustion of resources or accumulation of externalities. Examples range from small island cultures to major civilizations.[25][201] United States (Viking Press)
2005 Pandemic Research According to Bonn, more than 150 countries do not have national strategies to deal with a possible influenza pandemic.[25]
2005 Multiple Organization The Future of Humanity Institute is founded.[202] Based at the University of Oxford, it is a multidisciplinary research center applying mathematics, science, and philosophy to bear on big-picture questions about humanity and its prospects.[203] United Kingdom
2005 Impact event Program launch The United States Congress again direct NASA to find at least 90 percent of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects sized 140 meters or larger by the end of 2020.[204] United States (NASA)
2005 (November) Impact event open letter A number of astronauts publish an open letter through the Association of Space Explorers calling for a united push to develop strategies to protect Earth from the risk of a cosmic collision.[205]
2006 Weapons of mass destruction (biological weapon) Literature Mark Wheelis, Lajos Rózsa and Malcolm Dando publish Deadly cultures: biological weapons since 1945, which investigates the use of biological weapons throughout history.[206] United States (Harvard University Press)
2006 Impact event Program launch NEO Surveyor is first proposed[207] as a planned space-based infrared telescope designed to survey the Solar System for potentially hazardous asteroids.[208] A 50-centimeter-wide telescope, its camera sees things in infrared wavelengths, which reveal heat signatures. This is perfect for asteroids because they are very dark and hard to see against the blackness of space.[209] It is operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.[210] United States (NASA)
2006 (June 19) Multiple Preservation The prime ministers of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland lay "the first stone" to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.[211] Located in the island of Spitsbergen the vault now has the capacity to hold 2.25 billion seeds, is intended to “provide insurance against both incremental and catastrophic loss of crop diversity.”[212] Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland
2006 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Literature The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, chaired by Dr. Hans Blix, publishes Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological And Chemical Arms In this report, which presents 60 recommendations on what the world community can and should do to avoid nuclear war.[213] United States
2007 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Research Members of the original group of nuclear winter scientists collectively perform a new comprehensive quantitative assessment utilizing the latest computer and climate models. They conclude that even a small-scale, regional nuclear war could kill as many people as died in all of World War II and seriously disrupt the global climate for a decade or more, harming nearly everyone on Earth.[25]
2007 Artificial intelligence Research Eliezer Yudkowsky believes risks from artificial intelligence are harder to predict than any other known risks due to bias from anthropomorphism. Since people base their judgments of artificial intelligence on their own experience, he claims they underestimate the potential power of AI.[214] United States
2007 (November 8) Impact event Program launch The House Committee on Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics holds a hearing to examine the status of NASA's Near-Earth Object survey program. The prospect of using the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer is proposed by NASA officials.[215] United States (NASA)
2008 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Literature Michael Dobbs publishes One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War, which describes what Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called “the most dangerous moment in human history”.[216]
2008 Nanotechnology Research According to Chris Phoenix and Mike Treder, molecular manufacturing could be used to cheaply produce, among many other products, highly advanced, durable weapons. Being equipped with compact computers and motors these could be increasingly autonomous and have a large range of capabilities. Phoenix and Treder classify catastrophic risks posed by nanotechnology into three categories:
  1. From augmenting the development of other technologies such as AI and biotechnology.
  2. By enabling mass-production of potentially dangerous products that cause risk dynamics (such as arms races) depending on how they are used.
  3. From uncontrolled self-perpetuating processes with destructive effects.[217]
2008 Biotechnology Research According to Noun and Chyba, a biotechnology catastrophe may be caused by accidentally releasing a genetically engineered organism from controlled environments, by the planned release of such an organism which then turns out to have unforeseen and catastrophic interactions with essential natural or agro-ecosystems, or by intentional usage of biological agents in biological warfare or bioterrorism attacks. Noun and Chyba propose three categories of measures to reduce risks from biotechnology and natural pandemics: Regulation or prevention of potentially dangerous research, improved recognition of outbreaks, and developing facilities to mitigate disease outbreaks (e.g. better and/or more widely distributed vaccines).[218]
2008 Artificial intelligence Probability A survey by the Future of Humanity Institute estimates a 5% probability of extinction by super-intelligence by 2100.[219] United Kingdom (University of Oxford)
2008 Multiple Concept developoment Eliezer Yudkowsky introduces the Moore's Law of Mad Science, which states that "every 18 months, the minimum IQ necessary to destroy the world drops by one point".[220][221] United States
2008 Biotechnology Probability A survey by the Future of Humanity Institute estimates a 2% probability of extinction from engineered pandemics by 2100.[219] United Kingdom (University of Oxford)
2008 Multiple Notable comment U.S. economist Robin Hanson argues that a refuge permanently housing as few as 100 people would significantly improve the chances of human survival during a range of global catastrophes.[222] United States
2008 Totalitarianism Notable comment American economist and author Bryan Caplan writes that "perhaps an eternity of totalitarianism would be worse than extinction". He states that it is better to risk extinction than to live under a dictatorship forever. Caplan also believes that the human capacity for suffering is so great that even the worst possible life would be preferable to an infinite amount of pain.[223] United States
2008 Multiple Literature Nick Bostrom publishes Global Catastrophic Risks, which examines the possibility of disastrous events that could bring about the end of human civilization, or even lead to the extinction of the human race. Bostrom looks at a variety of risks, including those posed by nuclear war, climate change, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence.[25]
2009 Impact event Research Research published in an issue of the journal Nature, describes how scientists were able to identify an asteroid in space before it entered Earth's atmosphere, enabling computers to determine its area of origin in the Solar System as well as predict the arrival time and location on Earth of its shattered surviving parts. The four-meter-diameter asteroid, called 2008 TC3, was initially sighted by the automated Catalina Sky Survey telescope, on October 6, 2008. Computations correctly predict that it would impact 19 hours after discovery and in the Nubian Desert of northern Sudan.[224] United Kingdom (Nature Research)
2009 Artificial intelligence Research The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) hosts a conference to discuss the possibility of computers and robots acquiring autonomy, and the potential risks associated with this. They note that some robots have already acquired various forms of semi-autonomy, including the ability to find power sources on their own and to independently choose targets to attack with weapons. They also note that some computer viruses can evade elimination and have achieved "cockroach intelligence". The researchers note that self-awareness is probably unlikely, but there are other potential hazards and pitfalls.[225] United States (Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence)
2009 Pandemic Literature Alan Sipress publishes The Fatal Strain: On the Trail of Avian Flu and the Coming Pandemic.[226] United States (Penguin Publishing Group)
2009 Pandemic Program launch The Emerging Pandemic Threats program is launched[227] with the purpose to strengthen global capacity for detection of viruses with pandemic potential that can move between animals and people.[228]
2009 Multiple Concept development M. L. Weitzman presents his 'dismal theorem', which states that a standard cost-benefit analysis may break down if there is a possibility of catastrophes occurring.[229] The “dismal” theorem tells that it is an error to use trade-off analysis under existential risk.[230]
2010 Multiple Literature Robert Wuthnow publishes Be Very Afraid: The Cultural Response to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats.[231] United States (Oxford University Press, USA)
2010 Weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapon, niological weapon) Literature Edward M. Spiers publishes A history of chemical and biological weapons, which attempts to provide a detailed history of the use of chemical and biological agents in warfare.[232]
2011 Multiple Organization The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) is formed[233] at Stanford University, with the purpose to gather organizations concerned about the existential threats to civilization.[234] MAHB is a meeting place for citizens concerned with the interconnections among the greatest threats to human well being.[235] United States
2011 Impact event Research Dr. Bong Wie at Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University, after studying strategies that could deal with 50-to-500-metre-diameter objects when the time to Earth impact is less than one year, concludes that to provide the required energy, a nuclear explosion or other event that could deliver the same power, are the only methods that can work against a very large asteroid within these time constraints.[236] United States (Iowa State University)
2011 Biotechnology, pandemic Sample case Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus University Medical Center engineers a deadly, airborne version of the H5N1 influenza virus.[237] The virus is believed to kill 60 percent of the people it infects.[238] Netherlands (Erasmus University Medical Center)
2011 Pandemic Literature Nathan Wolfe publishes The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, which explores the dangers of pandemics in the modern world.[239] United States (Henry Holt and Company)
2011 Multiple Organization The Global Catastrophic Risk Institute (GCRI) is founded by Seth Baum and Tony Barrett.[240] It is a think tank that analyzes the risk of catastrophes severe enough to threaten the survival of human civilization.[241] United States (Washington, DC.)
2012 (January) Impact event Literature After a near pass-by of object 2012 BX34, a paper entitled A Global Approach to Near-Earth Object Impact Threat Mitigation is released by an international team of researchers. The paper discusses the "NEOShield" project.[242] Russia, Germany, United States, France, Britain, Spain
2012 (February 23) Impact event Research The small asteroid 367943 Duende is discovered and successfully predicted to be on close but non-colliding approach to Earth again just 11 months later.[243] Due to its tiny size and having been closely monitored, this discovery is considered a landmark prediction.
2012 Multiple Organization The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk is founded.[244] A research center located at the University of Cambridge, it is dedicated to the study and mitigation of existential risks that could lead to human extinction or irrevocable civilisational decline.[245] United Kingdom (University of Cambridge)
2012 (June) Pandemic Sample case With the purpose to study human adaptation, researchers publish the creation of highly lethal and virulent artificial strains of H5N1.[246]
2011 (August) Giant Solar Flares Conference Nasa holds a press conference about Solar Flares and their effects on the Earth. Solar flares are a type of energy release that can cause disruptions on the Earth, including power outages and interference with communications.[247] United States (NASA)
2012 Impact event Research V.P. Vasylyev proposes to apply the ring-array concentrator as an alternative design of a mirrored collector for deflecting hazardous near-earth objects.[248] This type of collector has an underside lens-like position of its focal area that avoids shadowing of the collector by the target and minimizes the risk of its coating by ejected debris.
2012 Multiple Organization The Global Challenges Foundation is founded by the Swedish financial analyst and author Laszlo Szombatfalvy.[249] It aims to "incite deeper understanding of the most pressing threats to humanity - and to catalyse new ways of tackling them".[250] Sweden
2012 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Literature M.A. Harwell publishes Nuclear Winter: The Human and Environmental Consequences of Nuclear War, which argues that comparatively little scientific research has been done about the envifonmental consequences of a nuclear war of the magnitude of the arsenal at the time could unleash.[251]
2012 (June 29) Weapons of mass destruction (biological weapon) Literature Milton Leitenberg, Raymond A. Zilinskas and Jens H. Kuhn publish The Soviet Biological Weapons Program: A History, which attempts to understand the full scope of the USSR’s offensive biological weapons research.[252] United States (Harvard University Press)
2013 (February) Impact event Program launch Microsatellite NEOSSat is launched as a Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) with the purpose to hunt for NEOs in space.[253]
2013 (March) Multiple Conference Nick Bostrom gives at TED conference titled The end of humanity. Among topics exposed, Bostrom describes four classes of existential risk: human extinction, permanent stagnation, flawed realization, and subsequent ruination.[254] United Kingdom
2013 Impact event Organization The International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) is founded, with the purpose to serve as an authoritative source of accurate and up-to-date information on near-earth objects and their impact risks.[255]
2013 Impact event Research A table-top exercise is conducted at the headquarters of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C., with the purpose to acquaint FEMA with the nature of an impact event and how a warning of an impact might evolve if the threatening object is detected a short time prior to possible impact.[256] United States
2013 Impact event Program launch Asteroid Redirect Mission is proposed by NASA with the purpose to develop a robotic spacecraft to visit a large near-Earth asteroid and collect a multi-ton boulder from its surface for further analysis.[257] The program would be defunded and cancelled, but key technologies being developed for it would continue.[258][259][260] United States (NASA)
2013 (July) Multiple Organization The Center on Long-Term Risk is founded.[261] It has the purpose to address worst-case risks from the development and deployment of advanced AI systems.[262] United Kingdom
2013 Impact event Program launch The related National Laboratories of the United States (Department of Energy national laboratories) and Russia (Rosatom) sign a deal that includes an intent to cooperate on defense from asteroids.[263] United States, Rusia
2013 Impact event Program launch NASA announces its Asteroid Initiative, which includes the mission to identify, capture and relocate an asteroid through the Asteroid Redirect Mission, and an Asteroid Grand Challenge to find all asteroids threats to the human population and know what to do about them.[204] United States (NASA)
2013 Impact event Research According to expert testimony in the United States Congress, NASA would require at least five years of preparation before a mission to intercept an asteroid could be launched.[264] United States (NASA)
2013 Multiple Literature Nick Bostrom publishes his paper Existential Risk Prevention as Global Priority, which argues that existential risks are those that threaten the future of humanity as a whole, and that preventing such risks should be a global priority..[265] United Kingdom (University of Oxford)
2013 Climate change Literature Wil C. G. Burns and Andrew L. Strauss publish Climate Change Geoengineering : Philosophical Perspectives, Legal Issues, and Governance Frameworks, which considers the legal, policy, and philosophical issues presented by geoengineering and explores combating global warming through human-engineered climate interventions.[266] United Kingdom (Cambridge University Press)
2014 (March) Impact event Program launch NASA launches the Asteroid Data Hunter contest in partnership with Planetary Resources to create better algorithms to hunt for undiscovered asteroids in existing data.[204] United States (NASA)
2014 (March) Multiple Organization The Future of Life Institute is founded by Max Tegmark and Jaan Tallinn.[267] Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it is an independent non-profit that works to reduce extreme risks from transformative technologies, as well as steer the development and use of these technologies to benefit life.[268] United States
2014 (April) Impact event Program launch A US Government Accountability Office report notes that the National Nuclear Security Administration retains canned sub assemblies (CSAs—nuclear secondary stages) in an indeterminate state pending a senior-level government evaluation of their use in planetary defense against earthbound asteroids.[269] United States
2014 Impact event Research At NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts conference, Wie and his colleagues confirm having the ability to mitigate the asteroid-impact threat, with any range of warning. According to their computer models, with a warning time of 30 days, a 300-meter-wide asteroid would be neutralized by using a single Hypervelocity Asteroid Intercept Vehicle, with less than 0.1% of the destroyed object's mass potentially striking Earth, which by comparison would be more than acceptable.[270] United States (NASA)
2014 Human activity Literature Elizabeth Kolbert publishes The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, which explores the idea that human activity is leading to a mass extinction.[271]
2014 Multiple Research Seth Baum and Itsuki C. Handoh write an article comparing the planetary boundaries and global catastrophic risk paradigms and integrates them into a unified conceptual framework, which they call Boundary Risk for Humanity and Nature (BRIHN).[272] The researchers propose increasingly sophisticated risk assessment concepts that seek to more fully explore the space within which global catastrophes could occur and classify their salient features.[2]
2014 Pandemic Sample case (accident) GlaxoSmithKline accidentally releases 45 liters of concentrated polio virus into a river in Belgium.[26] Belgium
2014 Artificial intelligence Literature Nick Bostrom publishes Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, which argues that if artificial intelligence surpasses human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could replace humans as the dominant lifeform on Earth.[273]
2014 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Research A study finds that even a regional nuclear war, involving fewer than a hundred weapons being detonated, could cause a global nuclear famine.[4][274]
2015 Technology Literature Yuval Noah Harari publishes Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow[275], which explores the impact of major technological developments on human society, and attempts to predict humankind's main goals in the next millennium.[276]
2015 Multiple Concept development Owen Cotton-Barratt and Toby Ord propose a definition of existential risk in terms of expected value theory, arguing that any event which causes the loss of a large fraction of expected value is an existential risk. This is different from Bostrom's original definition, as they argue that Bostrom fails to adequately capture catastrophes like a global totalitarian state that oppresses its citizenry for a period of time but then collapses, thus enabling humanity to continue its quest to maximize value.[2]
2015 Impact event Program launch The Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System begins operating in order to give warnings about any asteroids that might be on a collision course with Earth.[277]
2015 (July 27) Artificial intelligence Open leter The Future of Life Institute publishes an open letter in which more than a thousand eminent signatories (including business magnate Elon Musk, the linguist Noam Chomsky, the astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and the Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak) express the view that artificial intelligence is going to present serious problems for humanity.[278]
2015 (September 14) Collapse of the vacuum Research American astrophysicist Katie Mack publishes an article on cosmosmagazine.com describing how the Universe could be destroyed through vacuum decay.[103] If it were to occur, it would cause a change in the energy level of the Higgs field. This would cause a "bubble" of broken physics to expand throughout the universe at the speed of light, thus resulting in the complete destruction of the known laws of physics.[279] United States
2015 (November 3) Climate change Literature Oliver Morton publishes The planet remade: how geoengineering could change the world, which explores the history, politics, and cutting-edge science of geoengineering, and attempts to untangle the implications of our failure to meet the challenge of climate change and reintroduces the hope that success is possible.[280] United States (Princeton University Press)
2016 (March) Artificial intelligence Google's Deep Mind AI system AlphaGo wins over Lee Sedol from South Korea in a five-game Go match. This represents a crucial turning point in the history of non-biological intelligence.[278]
2016 Pandemic Literature Ali Khan and William Patrick publish The Next Pandemic: On the Front Lines Against Humankind’s Gravest Dangers.[281] United Kingdom (Hachette UK)
2016 (December 13) Impact event Research NASA researcher Joseph Nuth warns that the Earth is unprepared for an impact event.[282][283][284] Nuth also comments:
The biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment.[285]
United States (NASA)
2017 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) International law The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is adopted to comprehensively ban nuclear weapons.[286] It would enter into force on January 22, 2021.[287]
2017 Impact event Literature David Shonting and Cathy Ezrailson publish Chicxulub: The Impact and Tsunami: The Story of the Largest Known Asteroid to Hit the Earth.
2017 (March 27) Multiple Preservation effort The Arctic World Archive is opened in the island of Spitsbergen, Norway, as a facility for data preservation.[288] Designed to withstand natural and man-made disasters, it contains data of historical and cultural interest, with over 15 contributing nations.[289] Norway
2017 (May) Artificial intelligence Probability A survey of AI experts estimates that the chance of human-level machine learning having an "extremely bad (e.g., human extinction)" long-term effect on humanity is 5%.[290]
2017 (June) Cyberattack Research Christine Peterson, co-founder and past president of the Foresight Institute, believes a cyberattack on electric grids has the potential to be a catastrophic risk. She notes that little has been done to mitigate such risks, and that mitigation could take several decades of readjustment.[291] United States
2017 Pandemic Literature American epidemiologist Michael T. Osterholm and writer Mark Olshaker publish Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs.[292] United States
2017 Multiple Literature Phil Torres publishes Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing: An Introduction to Existential Risks.[293] According to Torres, if more existential risk scenarios are either actively created (“ontological risk multiplication”) or discovered by science (“epistemic risk multiplication”), then the ranks of existencial risks studies could further swell.[2]
2017 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Literature United States military analyst Daniel Ellsberg publishes The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, attempting to reveal his shocking firsthand account of the Nuclear program of the United States in the 1960s.[294] United States
2017 Global catastrophic biological risks Concept development Monica Schoch-Spana et al. define Global Catastrophic Biological Risks as “events [which] could lead to sudden, extraordinary, widespread disaster beyond the collective capability of national and international governments and the private sector to control.”[295][2] United States
2017 (October) Environmental disaster Research A report published in The Lancet states that toxic air, water pollution, soil pollution, and workplaces are collectively responsible for nine million deaths worldwide in 2015, particularly from air pollution which was linked to deaths by increasing susceptibility to non-infectious diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. The report warned that the pollution crisis was exceeding "the envelope on the amount of pollution the Earth can carry" and "threatens the continuing survival of human societies".[296]
2017 (November) Climate change Research A statement by 15,364 scientists from 184 countries indicates that increasing levels of greenhouse gases from the use of fossil fuels, human population growth, deforestation, and overuse of land for agricultural production, particularly by farming ruminants for meat consumption, are trending in ways that forecast an increase in human misery over coming decades.[297]
2017 (December) Multiple Conference Swedish researcher Anders Sandberg gives a TED Talk on existential risks titled Humanity on the Edge of Extinction.[298] Austria
2017 (October 18) Weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapon,biological weapon) Literature Anthony Tu publishes Chemical and Biological Weapons and Terrorism. Tu is recognized as the world’s leading expert on the Tokyo subway sarin attack.[299] United States (CRC Press)
2018 (April) Impact event Probability The B612 Foundation states "It's 100 per cent certain we'll be hit [by a devastating asteroid], but we're not 100 per cent sure when."[300]
2018 Space exploration Research Phil Torres argues that there are strong reasons for believing that venturing into space could have catastrophic consequences, likely causing something like a suffering risk (s-risk). He believes that the potential rewards of space exploration do not outweigh the risks.[2]
2018 Climate change Program launch The Club of Rome calls for greater climate change action and publishes its Climate Emergency Plan, which proposes ten action points to limit global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.[301]
2018 Multiple Research A group of scholars of disaster law and policy at the University of Copenhagen combine the classification of global catastrophic risk with lessons from the field of disaster studies to produce a framework for governing boring apocalypses. This focuses on vulnerabilities and exposures, two crucial factors that have long concerned the field of disaster studies.[2][302] Denmark (University of Copenhagen)
2018 Multiple Research A paper by researchers at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk notes that “to date, research on global catastrophic risk scenarios has focused mainly on tracing a causal pathway from catastrophic event to global catastrophic loss of life.” The paper argues that this focus is misplaced and that the research community should instead focus on understanding how the world would recover from such an event.[2] United Kingdom (University of Cambridge)
2018 (September 19) Supervolcano Literature Donald R. Prothero publishes When humans nearly vanished: the catastrophic explosion of the Toba supervolcano, which describes the Toba catastrophe theory, according which the Youngest Toba eruption might have caused a population bottleneck.[303] United States (Smithsonian)
2018 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Literature Mark Wolverton publishes Burning the Sky: Operation Argus and the Untold Story of the Cold War Nuclear Tests in Outer Space.[304] United States (Abrams Books)
2018 (April) Impact event Research Astronomers spot more than 8,000 near-Earth asteroids that are at least 460 feet (140 meters) wide and it is estimated about 17,000 such near-Earth asteroids remain undetected.[305]
2018 (June) Impact event Research The U.S. National Science and Technology Council warns that the United States is unprepared for an asteroid impact event, and develops and releases the National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy Action Plan to better prepare.[306][307][308][309][310] United States
2018 Pandemic Literature Sandra Hempel publishes The Atlas of Disease: Mapping Deadly Epidemics and Contagion from the Plague to the Zika Virus.[311] United Kingdom (White Lion Publishing)
2018 (October) Climate change Literature (paper) The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases a paper on climate change warning about catastrophic events in the future if we do not decarbonize.[3]
2018 (October) Impact event Literature English physicist Stephen Hawking in his final book Brief Answers to the Big Questions[312] considers an asteroid collision to be the biggest threat to the planet.[313][314][315] United States
2018 (November) Multiple Literature (paper) Seth D. Baum publishes paper titled Resilience to global catastrophe, which concludes that while hopefully global catastrophe might never occur, there is no guarantee that efforts to prevent global catastrophe will succeed, and that efforts to increase humanity’s resilience to global catastrophe constitute an important class of policy, something that has thus far received rather limited attention.[316]
2019 (January) Artificial intelligence Organization The Center for Security and Emerging Technology is established at Georgetown's Walsh School of Foreign Service with the purpose to focus on policy research of emerging technologies with an initial emphasis on artificial intelligence.[317] United States
2019 (February) Multiple Literature (paper) An international group of 14 scholars publish a paper titled Long-term trajectories of human civilization, which identifies four types of long-term trajectories: "status quo trajectories, in which civilization stays about the same, catastrophe trajectories, in which civilization collapses, technological transformation trajectories, in which radical technology fundamentally changes civilization, and astronomical trajectories, in which civilization expands beyond our home planet". The paper concludes that status quo trajectories are unlikely to persist over the long-term, and that it depends on what people do today whether humanity succumbs to catastrophe or achieves a more positive trajectory.[318][319]
2019 (March) Impact event Research Scientists report that asteroids may be much more difficult to destroy than thought earlier.[320][321]
2019 Environmental disaster Research A new climate report claims that, given plummeting biodiversity and receding ice sheets, "human life on earth may be on the way to extinction".[322]
2019 Climate change Research The 2019 report on climate change and the oceans by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describes the trend in which storms that used to occur once a century will happen once a year by midcentury. 46 If the planet continues to warm, “once a century” events will happen once a month. Because hurricanes get their destructive power from ocean heat, warmer waters increase the impact of extreme storms.[323] If the planet continues to warm, “once a century” events will happen once a month[4], due to hurricanes getting their destructive power from ocean heat.[324]
2019 Multiple Literature The Club of Rome publishes the Planetary Emergency Plan, with the purpose to obtain a set of key policy levers to address the cross-cutting challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and human health and wellbeing.[325]
2019 Climate change Field growth The term "existential threat" becomes increasingly common in consideration of the climate crisis.[8]
2020 (January 23) Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Probability The Doomsday Clock moves to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been in its 73-year history.[326]
2020 (March 3) Multiple Literature Australian philosopher Toby Ord publishes The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity. According to the author, understanding global catastrophic risks requires delving into disciplines such as physics, biology, earth science, computer science, history, anthropology, philosophy, economics, international relations, and political science.[26] Toby Ord estimates the odds that humanity could become extinct over the next century at one in six, with an out-of-control superintelligence, bioterrorism, and totalitarianism among the largest risks.[4] United Kingdom
2020 (March 11) Pandemic Sample case The COVID-19 pandemic is declared, soon becoming one of the deadliest pandemics in history, and revealing global unpreparedness for global risks.[3] The pandemic would trigger severe social and economic disruption around the world, including the largest global recession since the Great Depression.[327] While this pandemic does not constitute an existential risk in itself, according to Luiz Marques, frequently, an existential risk results from a set of crises that, separately, do not existentially threaten humanity, but combined and acting in synergy they have the potential to do so.[328] Worldwide
2020 (May) Environmental disaster Research An analysis published in Scientific Reports finds that if deforestation and resource consumption continue at current rates they could culminate in a "catastrophic collapse in human population" and possibly "an irreversible collapse of our civilization" within the next several decades. The study says humanity should pass from a civilization dominated by the economy to a "cultural society" that "privileges the interest of the ecosystem above the individual interest of its components, but eventually in accordance with the overall communal interest." The authors also note that "while violent events, such as global war or natural catastrophic events, are of immediate concern to everyone, a relatively slow consumption of the planetary resources may be not perceived as strongly as a mortal danger for the human civilization."[329][330]
2020 Multiple Concept development Nathan Sears formulates a concept of existential security, which takes humankind as its referent object against anthropogenic existential threats to human civilization and survival. his concept combines existential risk studies with security studies.[2]
2020 Pandemic Literature American physician Michael Greger publishes How to Survive a Pandemic, which attempts to reveal not only what we can do to cope with a pandemic, but also what can society do to reduce the likelihood of even worse catastrophes in the future.[331] United States
2020 Multiple Research Owen Cotton-Barratt, Max Daniel, and Anders Sandberg publish Defence in Depth Against Human Extinction: Prevention, Response, Resilience, and Why They All Matter, which discusses the importance of multiple levels of defense against human extinction, including prevention, response, and resilience.[2] The authors argue that all of these strategies are important and should be given consideration in planning for the future.[332] United Kingdom (University of Oxford)
2020 Multiple Literature British historian and researcher Thomas Moynihan publishes X-Risk, which explores how humanity has come to understand the risks posed by its own actions and inactions.[333] United Kingdom (University of Oxford)
2020 Natural disaster Statistics A total of 389 natural disasters are reported in the year, having killed 15,080 people, affected 98.4 million others, and costed US$171.3 billion. Statistics calculate an average of 400 natural disasters occurring worldwide each year.[334] Worldwide
2021 Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon) Statistics As of date, humanity has about 13,410 nuclear weapons, thousands of which are on hair-trigger alert.[335] Countries with nuclear weapons
2021 (May) Impact event Research NASA astronomers report that 5 to 10 years of preparation may be needed to avoid a virtual impactor based on a simulated exercise conducted by the 2021 Planetary Defense Conference.[336][337][338] United States (NASA)
2021 Environmental disaster Research A study described as the "first long-term assessment of global bee decline", which analyzes GBIF-data of over a century, finds that the number of bee species declined steeply worldwide after the 1990s, shrinking by a quarter in 2006–2015 compared to before 1990.[339][340]
2021 (September) Climate change Recommendation More than 200 scholarly medical journals joint publish an emergency call for action, saying that a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees would bring catastrophic harm to global health from which the world will never recover.[341]
2021 (October 19) Multiple Literature Joshua Schuster and Derek Woods publish Calamity Theory: Three Critiques of Existential Risk, which examines the rise of the the field of existential risk and points its failures to acknowledge the ways some communities and lifeways are more at risk than others and what it implies about human extinction.[342] United States (University of Minnesota Press)
2021 (November 9) Multiple Literature Andrew Leigh publishes What's the Worst That Could Happen?: Existential Risk and Extreme Politics, which looks at catastrophic risks and how to mitigate them, arguing provocatively that the rise of populist politics makes catastrophe more likely.[4] United States (MIT Press)
2021 (November 24) Impact event Program launch The Double Asteroid Redirection Test NASA space mission is launched. It is aimed at testing a method of planetary defense against near-Earth objects. United States (NASA)
2021 (December 5) Climate change Filmmaking American apocalyptic political satire black comedy film Don't Look Up is released, being well received by numerous climate scientists and climate communicators.[343][344][345] Climate scientist Peter Kalmus would remark, "It's the most accurate film about society's terrifying non-response to climate breakdown I've seen."[346] United States
2022 (January) Impact event Research A team of astronomers report the first unambiguous detection and mass measurement of an isolated stellar black hole using the Hubble Space Telescope together with the Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA) and the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE).[347]
2022 (August) Impact event Program launch Near-Earth Asteroid Scout is planned for launch.[348] Developed under NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Program, it is a miniaturized spacecraft[349]. This low-cost concept is aimed to map an asteroid and demonstrate several technological firsts, including being the first CubeSat to reach an asteroid.[350] United States (NASA)
2022 (August 16) Multiple Literature Scottish philosopher and ethicist William MacAskill publishes What We Owe the Future, which argues for longtermism, an ethical stance which gives priority to improving the long-term future. MacAskill states that we must ensure that civilization would rebound if it collapsed, counter the end of moral progress, and prepare for a planet where the smartest beings are digital, not human.[351] United States

Numerical and visual data

Google Scholar

The table below summarizes per-year mentions of "existential risk" on Google Scholar as of July 14, 2022. Note: Nick Bostrom introduced the term "existential risk" in 2003.

Year Mentions
1990 3
1992 11
1994 6
1996 4
1998 9
2000 13
2002 14
2004 40
2006 22
2008 34
2010 74
2012 115
2014 207
2016 348
2018 614
2020 965
Existential risk google scholar.PNG

Google trends

The chart below shows Google Trends data for global catastrophic risk (topic) from January 1, 2004 to July 3, 2022, when the screenshot was taken. Interest is also ranked by country and displayed on world map.[352]

Global catastrophic risk gt.png

Google Ngram viewer

The chart below shows Google Ngram Viewer data for existential risk from 1900 to 2019.[353]

Existencial risk ngram.PNG

Wikipedia views

The chart below shows pageviews of the English Wikipedia page Global catastrophic risk, on desktop, mobile-web, desktop-spider, mobile-web-spider and mobile app, from July 2015 to June 2022.[354]

Global catastrophic risk wv.png

Meta information on the timeline

How the timeline was built

The initial version of the timeline was written by Sebastian.

Base literature:

Funding information for this timeline is available.

Feedback and comments

Feedback for the timeline can be provided at the following places:


What the timeline is still missing

  • Rogue Black Holes ([2])

Timeline update strategy

See also

External links


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  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 2.30 2.31 2.32 2.33 2.34 2.35 2.36 Beard, Simon; Torres, Phil (2020). "Ripples on the Great Sea of Life: A Brief History of Existential Risk Studies". SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3730000. 
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 Moynihan, Thomas (3 November 2020). X-Risk: How Humanity Discovered Its Own Extinction. MIT Press. ISBN 978-1-913029-84-5. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Leigh, Andrew (9 November 2021). What's the Worst That Could Happen?: Existential Risk and Extreme Politics. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-36661-8. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Why despite global progress, humanity is probably facing its most dangerous time ever". 80,000 Hours. Retrieved 30 August 2022. 
  6. Sandberg, Anders. "The five biggest threats to human existence". The Conversation. Retrieved 30 August 2022. 
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  9. Alvarez, Walter (25 June 2013). T. rex and the Crater of Doom. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-4740-2. 
  10. "Apophis Can Wipe Out A Country: A Look At Every Massive Asteroid That Has Hit Earth - 'God of Chaos' Is Coming!". The Economic Times. Retrieved 30 August 2022. 
  11. "1490: When a Meteorite Killed 10,000 People in the Chinese City of Ch'ing-yang | Inquisitive Wonder". inquisitivewonder.com. 16 March 2022. Retrieved 31 October 2022. 
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  22. "readers library". thereaderslibrary.quora.com. Retrieved 25 October 2022. 
  23. "Eros | asteroid | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 27 August 2022. 
  24. Scholl, Hans; Schmadel, Lutz D. (2002). "Discovery Circumstances of the First Near-Earth Asteroid (433) Eros". Acta Historica Astronomiae. 15: 210–220. 
  25. 25.00 25.01 25.02 25.03 25.04 25.05 25.06 25.07 25.08 25.09 25.10 25.11 25.12 25.13 25.14 25.15 25.16 25.17 25.18 25.19 25.20 25.21 25.22 25.23 25.24 25.25 25.26 25.27 Bostrom, Nick; Cirkovic, Milan M. (29 September 2011). Global Catastrophic Risks. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-960650-4. 
  26. 26.00 26.01 26.02 26.03 26.04 26.05 26.06 26.07 26.08 26.09 26.10 26.11 Ord, Toby (2020). The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. ISBN 978-1-5266-0022-6. 
  27. "Shall We All Commit Suicide?". International Churchill Society. 17 June 2016. Retrieved 26 August 2022. 
  28. "Treaties, States parties, and Commentaries - Geneva Protocol on Asphyxiating or Poisonous Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods, 1925". ihl-databases.icrc.org. Retrieved 1 July 2022. 
  29. "1925 Geneva Protocol – UNODA". un.org. Retrieved 1 July 2022. 
  30. Kirshner, Robert P. (6 January 2004). "Hubble's diagram and cosmic expansion". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 101 (1): 8–13. doi:10.1073/pnas.2536799100. 
  31. "Radar observations of long-lost asteroid 1937 UB (Hermes)". web.archive.org. Retrieved 5 July 2022. 
  32. "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists". Atomic Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 20 July 2022. 
  33. "The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists begins publishing in 1945". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved 7 July 2022. 
  34. J. Zalasiwicz, ‘When Did the Anthropocene Begin? A Mid-Twentieth Century Boundary Level is Stratigraphically Optimal’, Quaternary International 383 (2015), 196–203.
  35. Hakim, Joy (January 5, 1995). A History of US: Book 9: War, Peace, and All that Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195095142. 
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