Timeline of existential risk
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
- 2 Big picture
- 3 Numerical and visual data
- 4 Full timeline
- 5 Meta information on the timeline
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
- 8 References
The following are some interesting questions that can be answered by reading this timeline:
- 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".
- 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".
|Time period||Development summary||More details|
|19th century||French scientist Georges Cuvier popularizes the concept of catastrophism in the early century.|
Numerical and visual data
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.
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.
Google Ngram viewer
The chart below shows Google Ngram Viewer data for existential risk from 1900 to 2019.
|Year||Risk type||Event type||Details||Country/location|
|1490||1490 Ch'ing-yang event|
|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.|
|1694||Impact event||Research||Edmond Halley presents a theory that Noah's flood in the Bible was caused by a comet impact.|
|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.|
|1860s||Research||The second law of thermodynamics is discovered. This would inspire new thoughts about human extinction among both science fiction writers and working scientists.|
|1898||Impact event||Research||433 Eros becomes the first near-Earth asteroid to be discovered.|
|1903||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.
|1906||Geomagnetic reversal||Research||Magnetic field reversal is discovered.|
|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.||Russia|
|1925 (June 17)||International law||The Geneva Protocol is signed with the purpose to ban the use of chemical and biological weapons. It would enter into force on 8 February 1928.|
|1929||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.||United States|
|1937||Impact event||Sample case||Asteroid 69230 Hermes is discovered when it passes the Earth at twice the distance of the Moon.|
|1945||Organization||The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is founded by Manhattan Project scientists at the University of Chicago. |
|1945 (July 16)||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||Milestone event||The first nuclear detonation is conducted. 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.|
|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.||United States|
|1947||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||The Doomsday Clock is introduced, and set seven minutes to midnight. 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.|
|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.
|1949||Supervolcano||Concept development||The term "supervolcano" is first used in a volcanic context.|
|1949||Concept development||The epigram Murphy's law ("If anything can go wrong, it will") is originated at Edwards Air Force Base. It is named after Edward A. Murphy, an engineer working on Air Force Project MX981, which was designed to see how much sudden deceleration a person can stand in a crash.|
|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”.|
|1956||November 5||False Alarms during the Suez Crisis.|
|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.||United States|
|1960||October 5||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.|
|1961||Scientific development||German astrophysicist Sebastian von Hoerner suggests that sixty percent of all civilisations immolate themselves in planet-scorching war.|
|1961||November 24||"On this evening, communication links between Strategic Air Command headquarters (SAC HQ) and NORAD went dead. The result was that SAC HQ 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."|
|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"., 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.|
|1962||Climate change||Literature||Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring.|
|1962 (October 27)||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||Sample case||During the Cuban Missile Crisis, a single officer on a Soviet submarine almost starts a nuclear war. John F. Kennedy would estimate the probability of escalation to nuclear conflict as between 33% and 50%.|
|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. It would enter into force on October 10, 1963.|
|1964||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):
|1964||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.|
|1965||Artificial intelligence||Scientific development||I. J. Good speculates that artificial general intelligence might bring about an intelligence explosion.|
|1967 (January 27)||Weapons of mass destruction||International law||The Outer Space Treaty is signed, with the purpose to ban stationing of weapons of mass destruction in space. It would enter into force on October 10, 1967.|
|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.|
|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.
|1967||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. The design project would be later published in a book by the MIT Press and receive considerable publicity, for the first time bringing asteroid impact into the public eye.|
|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. It would enter into force on March 5, 1970.|
|1968||Literature||American biologist Paul R. Ehrlich publishes The Population Bomb.||United States|
|1969||Scientific development||Scientists discover a new and distinctive type of stellar explosion.|
|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.|
|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. It would enter into force on March 26, 1975.|
|1973||October 24||"False Alarm During DEFCON 3. During the Arab-Israeli war, the U.S. went to high alert as a way of warning the U.S.S.R. not to intervene. "|
|1974||August 1||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.” ||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’.|
|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.|
|1979||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||Literature||The United States Congress' Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) publishes The Effects of Nuclear War.||United States|
|1979||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||Literature||Cresson H. Kearny publishes Nuclear War Survival Skills: Lifesaving Nuclear Facts and Self-Help Instructions.|
|1979||October 9||"Simulated Soviet Attack Mistaken for Real"|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.||United States|
|1980||At this time there are sixty-five nuclear engineering programs in the United States, a number that would be reduced to only thirty-one by 2008..|
|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.||United States|
|1980||June 3 — June 6||"Faulty Chip Signals Soviet Attack"|
|1980||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||Literature||Bruce Clayton publishes Life After Doomsday.|
|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.||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. For years this disease would remain a death sentence, spreading to all continents and lowering life expectancy in many countries in Africa.|
|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. 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.||United States|
|1983||Concept development||British cosmologist Brandon Carter frames the "Doomsday argument".|
|1983||September 26||"Soviet Union Detects Incoming Missiles. A Soviet early warning satellite showed that the United States had launched five land-based missiles at the Soviet Union."|
|1983||November 2 — November 11||"Soviets Misinterpret US Nuclear War Games NATO conduced a massive command post exercise simulating a period of conflict escalation November 2-11 1983. This culminated with a simulation of the highest military alert status, DEFCON 1, and a coordinated nuclear attack against the Soviet Union."|
|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.||United States|
|1985||Soviet automatic nuclear weapons-control system Perimetr.||Russia|
|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. Historian Yuval Noah Harari would call Gorbachev an historical hero, for probably saving the world from nuclear war.||Russia (Soviet Union)|
|1986||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||Statistics||The global size of the nuclear arsenals peaks at 70,000 warheads.|
|1986||Nanotechnology||Concept development||Nanotechnology pioneer K. Eric Drexler coins the term gray goo in his book Engines of Creation. 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, a scenario that would be called ecophagy (the literal consumption of the ecosystem).|
|1986||Organization||The Center for Security and International Cooperation is formed at Stanford University. It is a hub for researchers tackling some of the world's most pressing security and international cooperation problems.||United States|
|1986||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||Literature||Lydia Dotto publishes Planet Earth in Jeopardy: Environmental Consequences of Nuclear War.|
|1987||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.||United States|
|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.|
|1988||Research||According to Kasting et al., when the Sun becomes too bright, it will drive a runaway greenhouse effect through the Earth’s atmosphere.|
|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. |
|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.|
|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.|
|1992||Document||The World Scientists' Warning to Humanity is writen by Henry Way Kendall, and signed by about 1,700 leading scientists.|
|1992||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.|
|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.|
|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. While an unsuccessful attempt, this event provides an example of a terrorist group apparently intending to make use of a contagious virus.||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. It would enter into force on April 29, 1997.|
|1993||Literature||Cathy O'Neil publishes Weapons of Math Destruction.||United States (Crown Books)|
|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.|
|1993||Impact event||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. This method would first require the construction of a space station with a system of large collecting, concave mirrors similar to those used in solar furnaces.|
|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.||United States|
|1995 (January 25)||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||Sample case||The Norwegian rocket incident occurs when a Russian radar detects the launch of a single nuclear missile aimed at Russia.|
|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.||United States|
|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.|
|1995||January 25||"Norwegian Rocket Mistaken for ICBM"|
|1995||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.|
|1996 (March 26)||Impact event||Organization||The Spaceguard Foundation is established in Rome. It works to promote and coordinate activities for the discovery and characterization of near-Earth objects.||Italy|
|1996||Literature||John A. Leslie publishes The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction.|
|1996||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.|
|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.|
|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. As of 2022, it is not in force.|
|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.|
|1997||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.||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).|
|1998 (December 6)||Artificial intelligence||Research||Eliezer Yudkowsky argues that it would be good to allow a superintelligent AI system to choose own its morality.|
|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.||United States (Random House)|
|2000||Organization||The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network is established.|
|2000||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.|
|2000||Particle Accelerator Mishap||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.|
|2000||Pandemic||Sample case||A virus subtype H1N1]) is resurrected piece by piece from preserved human lung tissue.|
|2000||Artificial intelligence||Organization||The Machine Intelligence Research Institute is founded as an independent non-governmental organizations (NGO), with the purpose to reduce the risk of a catastrophe caused by artificial intelligence.|
|2001||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||Organization||The Nuclear Threat Initiative is formed.|
|2001||The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is launched. 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.|
|2001||Sample case||2 million trees are destroyed in Florida in an effort to contain a natural outbreak of Xanthomonas axonopodis, 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.||United States|
|2001||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.|
|2001||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.||United States|
|2002||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".|
|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.|
|2002 (October 7)||Impact event||B612 Foundation is founded with the goal "to develop tools and technologies to understand, map, and navigate our solar system and protect our planet from asteroid impacts."||United States|
|2003||Literature||British Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees publishes Our Final Hour.|
|2003||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.|
|2004||Organization||The Global Risk Network is established, by the World Economic Forum in an attempt to bring together cross-sectoral responses to a new set of emerging global risks.|
|2004||Pandemic||Sample case||SARS escapes from the National Institute of Virology in Beijing.||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.|
|2004||Literature||American economist Richard Posner publishes Catastrophe: Risk and Response, 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.||United States (Oxford University Press, USA)|
|2005||Organization||The Future of Humanity Institute is founded. 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.||United Kingdom|
|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".||United States|
|2005||Pandemic||Literature||Jo Hays publishes Epidemics and Pandemics: Their Impacts on Human History.|
|2005||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.||United States (Viking Press)|
|2005||Pandemic||Research||According to Bonn, more than 150 countries do not have national strategies to deal with a possible flu pandemic.|
|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.||United States|
|2005 (November)||Impact event||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.|
|2006||Weapons of mass destruction (biological weapon)||Literature||Mark Wheelis, Lajos Rózsa and Malcolm Dando publish Deadly cultures: biological weapons since 1945.|
|2006||NEO Surveyor is first proposed.|
|2006 (June 19)||Program launch||The prime ministers of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland lay "the first stone" to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Lovated 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.”|
|2006||Weapons of mass destruction||Literature||Hans Blix publishes Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological And Chemical Arms.|
|2007||"In 2007, members of the original group of nuclear winter scientists collectively performed a new comprehensive quantitative assessment utilizing the latest computer and climate models. They concluded 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."|
|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.||United States|
|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”.|
|2008||Artificial intelligence||Research||American artificial intelligence theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky theorizes that scope neglect plays a role in public perception of existential risks.||United States|
|2008||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.||United States|
|2008||Totalitarianism||Notable comment||Bryan Caplan writes that "perhaps an eternity of totalitarianism would be worse than extinction".||United States|
|2008||Literature||Nick Bostrom publishes Global Catastrophic Risks.|
|2009||Impact event||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.|
|2009||Pandemic||Literature||Alan Sipress publishes The Fatal Strain: On the Trail of Avian Flu and the Coming Pandemic.||United States (Penguin Publishing Group)|
|2009||Pandemic||Program launch||The Emerging Pandemic Threats program is launched.|
|2010||Literature||Robert Wuthnow publishes Be Very Afraid: The Cultural Response to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats.||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.|
|2010||Artificial intelligence||Research||Less Wrong community blog Roko proposes what would be described as Roko’s basilisk, a thought experiment arguing that a sufficiently powerful AI agent would have an incentive to torture anyone who imagined the agent but didn't work to bring the agent into existence.||United States|
|2011||Organization||The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere is formed.|
|2011||"The director of the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University, Dr. Bong Wie (who had published kinetic impactor deflection studies previously), began to study strategies that could deal with 50-to-500-metre-diameter (200–1,600 ft) objects when the time to Earth impact was less than one year. He concluded 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."|
|2011||Biotechnology, pandemic||Sample case||Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier engineers a deadly, airborne version of the H5N1 influenza virus.||Netherlands|
|2011||Pandemic||Literature||Nathan Wolfe publishes The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age.||United States (Henry Holt and Company)|
|2011||Organization||The Global Catastrophic Risk Institute (GCRI) is founded by Seth Baum and Tony Barrett.|
|2012 (January)||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 researchers from Russia, Germany, the United States, France, Britain, and Spain, which discuss the "NEOShield" project.|
|2012 (February 23)||Impact event||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. Due to its tiny size and having been closely monitored, this discovery is considered a landmark prediction.|
|2012||Organization||The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk is founded.||United Kingdom|
|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.|
|2011 (August)||Giant Solar Flares||Conference||Nasa holds a press conference about Solar Flares.||United States|
|2012||V.P. Vasylyev proposes to apply the ring-array concentrator as an alternative design of a mirrored collector for deflecting hazardous near-earth objects. 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||Organization||The Global Challenges Foundation is founded by the Swedish financial analyst and author Laszlo Szombatfalvy. It aims to "incite deeper understanding of the most pressing threats to humanity - and to catalyse new ways of tackling them".|
|2012||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||Literature||M.A. Harwell publishes Nuclear Winter: The Human and Environmental Consequences of Nuclear War.|
|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.|
|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.|
|2013||March||Conference||The end of humanity: Nick Bostrom at TEDxOxford. Among topics exposed, Bostrom describes four classes of existential risk: human extinction, permanent stagnation, flawed realization, and subsequent ruination.||United Kingdom|
|2013||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.|
|2013||Impact event||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.||United States|
|2013||Impact event||Asteroid Redirect Mission|
|2013 (July)||Organization||The Center on Long-Term Risk is founded.|
|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.||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.|
|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.|
|2013||Literature||Nick Bostrom publishes his paper Existential Risk Prevention as Global Priority.|
|2013||Climate change||Literature||Wil C. G. Burns and Andrew L. Strauss publish Climate Change Geoengineering : Philosophical Perspectives, Legal Issues, and Governance Frameworks.|
|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.|
|2014 (March)||Organization||The Future of Life Institute is founded by Max Tegmark and Jaan Tallinn. 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.||United States|
|2014 (April)||Impact event||A US Government Accountability Office report notes that the National Nuclear Security Administration is retaining 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.||United States|
|2014||"At the 2014 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) conference, Wie and his colleagues stated that "we have the solution, using our baseline concept, to be able to mitigate the asteroid-impact threat, with any range of warning." For example, according to their computer models, with a warning time of 30 days, a 300-metre-wide (1,000 ft) asteroid would be neutralized[vague] by using a single HAIV, with less than 0.1% of the destroyed object's mass potentially striking Earth, which by comparison would be more than acceptable."|
|2014||Literature||Elizabeth Kolbert publishes The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.|
|2014||Pandemic||Sample case (accident)||GlaxoSmithKline accidentally releases 45 liters of concentrated polio virus into a river in Belgium.||Belgium|
|2014||Artificial intelligence||Literature||Nick Bostrom publishes Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, which argues that if machine brains surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could replace humans as the dominant lifeform on Earth.|
|2015||Literature||Yuval Noah Harari publishes Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, which explores the impact of major technological developments on human society, and attempts to predict humankind's main goals in the next millennium.|
|2015||Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System begins|
|2015 (September 14)||Collapse of the vacuum||Research|| American astrophysicist Katie Mack publishes an article on
|2015 (November 3)||Literature||Oliver Morton publishes The planet remade: how geoengineering could change the world.|
|2016||Pandemic||Literature||Ali Khan and William Patrick publish The Next Pandemic: On the Front Lines Against Humankind’s Gravest Dangers.|
|2016 (December 13)||Impact event||Research|| NASA researcher Joseph Nuth warns that the Earth is unprepared for an impact event. Nuth also comments:
The biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment.
|2017||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||International law||The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is signed to comprehensively ban nuclear weapons. It would enter into force on January 22, 2021.|
|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||Pandemic||Literature||American epidemiologist Michael T. Osterholm and writer Mark Olshaker publish Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs.||United States|
|2017||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||Literature||Daniel Ellsberg publishes The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.|
|2017 (December)||Conference||Swedish researcher Anders Sandberg gives a TED Talk on existential risks titled Humanity on the Edge of Extinction.||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.||United States (CRC Press)|
|2018 (April)||Impact event||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."|
|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.|
|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.||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.|
|2018 (April)||Impact event||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.|
|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.||United States|
|2018||Pandemic||Literature||Sandra Hempel publishes The Atlas of Disease: Mapping Deadly Epidemics and Contagion from the Plague to the Zika Virus.||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.|
|2018 (October)||Impact event||Literature||English physicist Stephen Hawking in his final book Brief Answers to the Big Questions considers an asteroid collision to be the biggest threat to the planet.|
|2018 (November)||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.|
|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.||United States|
|2019 (February)||Literature (paper)||An international group of 14 scholars publish a paper titled Long-term trajectories of human civilization, which identified 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.|
|2019 (March)||Impact event||Research||Scientists report that asteroids may be much more difficult to destroy than thought earlier.|
|2019||Ecosystem collapse||Literature (paper)||A new climate report claims that, given plummeting biodiversity and receding ice sheets, "human life on earth may be on the way to extinction".|
|2019||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.|
|2020 (January 23)||Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapon)||The Doomsday Clock moves to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been in its 73-year history.|
|2020 (March 3)||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.|
|2020||Pandemic||Literature||Michael Greger publishes How to Survive a Pandemic.|
|2020||Literature||Owen Cotton-Barratt et al. publish Defence in Depth Against Human Extinction: Prevention, Response, Resilience, and Why They All Matter.|
|2020 (November 5)||Weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapon, biological weapon)||Literature||Edward M. Spiers publishes Agents of War: A History of Chemical and Biological Weapons.|
|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.||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.|
|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.|
|2021||Ecosystem collapse||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.|
|2021 (September)||Climate change||Recommendation||More than 200 scholarly medical journals 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.|
|2021 (October 19)||Literature||Joshua Schuster and Derek Woods publish Calamity Theory: Three Critiques of Existential Risk.||United States (University of Minnesota Press)|
|2021 (November 9)||Literature||Andrew Leigh publishes What's the Worst That Could Happen?: Existential Risk and Extreme Politics.|
|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.|
|2022 (January)||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).|
|2022 (August)||Near-Earth Asteroid Scout is planned for launch.|
Meta information on the timeline
How the timeline was built
The initial version of the timeline was written by Sebastian.
- The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity by Toby Ord
- X-Risk: How Humanity Discovered Its Own Extinction, by Thomas Moynihan.
- Our Final Hour by Martin Rees.
- Global Catastrophic Risks by Nick Bostrom.
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
- The Center for AI Safety
- Category:Modern Earth impact events
- Category:Missions to near-Earth asteroids
- List of near-Earth object observation projects
- Asteroid impact avoidance
- Category:Earth-grazing fireballs
- Ultimate fate of the universe (check categories below)
- Big Rip
- Heat death of the universe
- Big Crunch
- Gamma-ray Burst
- 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
- Mass Insanity
-  (check RECOMMENDED REFERENCES)
- Global catastrophic risk
- List of global issues
- Global catastrophe scenarios
- Societal collapse
- Technological singularity
- Human outpost
- Volcanic winter
- Asteroid impact avoidance
Timeline update strategy
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