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Of Technological Lifetimes and Survival

Is the movement toward ever more sophisticated technology irreversible? If you’ve studied history, the answer is obviously no. Various speculations arise from this — Carl Sagan once opined that without the intervening collapse known as the Dark Ages, we might have seen a Greek civilization exploring near-Earth space a thousand years ago. It’s also likely that no law prevents another collapse into technological and scientific somnolence, perhaps sparked by war, or disease, or economic catastrophe.

This is why I always hedge my bets when asked about timetables for space exploration. How long until we get humans to the outer system? How long until we launch a fast starship? Everyone is in a hurry, but so much depends on whether we keep growing our technology. Nanotechnology, for example, could change everything, but it’s one thing to be using molecular assemblers by the end of the century, and quite another to see the fruition of this work stalled for a millennium by external events.


In my grad school days as a medievalist, I found myself examining ancient manuscripts, documents assembled during the interregnum between the end of Roman hegemony in Europe and the first stirrings of the European renaissance. Vellum, which is treated sheep or goat skin, proved to be long-lived, and you can go to places like the British Museum or the Háskóli Íslands in Reykjavik and see some of the glories of the Middle Ages, illuminated manuscripts transcribed in a beautiful hand, conveying the art and wisdom of our species (and not coincidentally, rescuing it from oblivion).

Image: Detail of 14th-century manuscript of Dante’s Commedy (MS Trivulziano 1080).

Today the notion of preserving precious documents seems remote, given the speed with which we digitize and multiply things. But therein lies a trap, and it’s helpful to know that Japanese researchers have developed a form of memory that can store data for over a thousand years. After all, conventional hard disks are subject to magnetic influences that can destroy their information within decades. And if you’re relying on optical disks of various kinds, be aware that a lifetime of a century seems profoundly optimistic.

The researchers note, however, that if you keep the humidity at less than two percent, you can use a semiconductor device to keep data intact for a period approximating that between Alaric’s entry into Rome and the writing of Dante’s Divine Comedy. They’re calling this Digital Rosetta Stone (DRS), a nod to the trilingual artifact that opened up our understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Rosetta Stone was a way of transmitting ideas (in this case, a decree from Ptolemy V) that contained a multilingual key to a long dead form of writing.

I see that the Long Now Foundation has picked up on the DRS work with a useful suggestion: “If someone finds this disk 1,000 years from now, how will they know how to access the information? We think a microetched instruction manual might do very nicely.” Indeed. As we figure out ways to extend the life of our digital artifacts (and in the process, build one key technology for extremely long-duration spaceflight), we have to remember that future researchers may not approach what we leave behind with the assumptions, or tools, needed to decode it.

We don’t know how long technological societies live — this is a key term in the Drake Equation. Hoping for the best means anticipating a future in which downturns, or even collapse, can be followed by resurgence and renewed growth. We sometimes speak in these pages of a planetary backup plan in case of external catastrophe, but we need one as well for self-inflicted emergency, something history tells us our species is prone to inflict upon itself. And while I’m generally an optimist, I feel better knowing that new ways of preserving information are coming online.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mark Stacey July 1, 2009, 12:39

    So here’s the thing.

    Assume that there are no technological skills available – even reading.
    Have carvings into some long lasting metal disk visible without magnification explaining the basics of melting sand to make glass and a magnifying device. Diagramattically, assuming that the language is changed/reading is a lost skill

    Then, etched into other disks, visible by magnification, explain the language, and then more detail denser storage mediums.

    A “rosetta stone” from illiteracy to basic mechanics/chemistry

  • Tibor July 1, 2009, 16:30

    Everyone is in a hurry, but so much depends on whether we keep growing our technology. Nanotechnology, for example, could change everything, but it’s one thing to be using molecular assemblers by the end of the century, and quite another to see the fruition of this work stalled for a millennium by external events.

    This is a nice formulation of the reason why we must think of a permament “Ground Segment” for very long deep space missions – see e.g. the discussion about such a Ground Segment for the proposed EGR Mission here. Or think of the difficulties faced to retrieve the Pioneer data for getting a new basis for analyzing the Pioneer anomaly – and here we talk about only on or two decades.

  • Tibor July 1, 2009, 16:32

    Here is once more the link to the EGR Ground Segment discussion.

  • tacitus July 1, 2009, 18:10

    I very much doubt that if we suffer a reversal in our technological progress, we will be returned to the point where we cannot begin piecing together the nuts and bolts of our technological revolution within a few years (or decades at most). In fact the most likely scenario is one of stagnation, or perhaps a minor retrenchment as our resources are redirected to effects needed to ensure our survival.

    Something that is so catastrophic as to cause an technology-less interregnum of any length of time would almost certainly wipe us out completely.

    That’s not to say that the problem of long term digital storage isn’t a serious issue. I seem to recall that the EC recently announced they were setting up a repository for preserving digital readers of all types, and they’ve had the “Digital Preservation Europe” initiative for several years now (http://www.digitalpreservationeurope.eu/).

    I think the biggest worry is not a civilization-ending catastrope, it’s the risk of losing a good chunk of valuable data in the event of regional disaster (man-made or natural) or even losing track of data and then wiping it out accidentally.

    Having had a brief look around, it seems there is already a very active and well funded digital preservation community (something I didn’t know), which is likely to be of great help should something short of the ultimate disaster befall us. If the worst happened, I just don’t think there would be anyone left to care.

  • tacitus July 1, 2009, 18:24

    The idea that we might already have reached the stars were it not for the fall of the classical world and the resulting Dark Ages is a fascinating one. I have been fiddling with a parallel worlds scifi novel idea where that comes into play, although the advanced version of our world hasn’t expanded into space, but through wormholes into other parallel universes, including our own—which, as you can imagine, causes a few problems for us. :-)

    Anyway, there doesn’t seem to be much point in dwelling on the missed opportunities of the past, simply because if there had been no Dark Ages, we would not be around to discuss the issue anyway!

  • John Hunt July 1, 2009, 19:59

    Yes, a new Dark Ages could happen in that a near total catastrophe could freeze progress in its tracks and people with technical ability could be lost. But even then, we would be in a very fundamentally different situation than we were in the Dark Ages. The biggest difference is that artifacts of today’s technology would still exist and would provide the basis for strongly directed and successful progress.

    Say for example, after the dust settles the few survivors figure out how to eek out a sustainable existence. When their population grows, people will be able to look at the artifacts around and copy them. Technology would begin to advance quickly because much of the inventive work of the previous civilization would be scattered all around.

    But in the Dark Ages, no one had an example of an automobile, or a jet engine, or a modern sewer system, or advanced building methods, or…or…or…

    I would rather that the Long Now Foundation focus its efforts on establishing a self-sustained bunker so that humanity could survive an existential event. Does such a place exist now? Is there any place on Earth where some people could not only survive a biotech, nanotech, chemtech, and AI catastrophe but could also emerge and eventually escape? If no such place exists then we’re really in a bad position.

  • ASJ July 1, 2009, 21:23

    Life on Earth has been copying and utilizing an expanding set of genetic information for over 600 million years. It should be possible to develop a number of working analogues to this process using materials other than organic molecules.

  • Blade O'grass July 1, 2009, 22:24

    Hi everyone;

    Since long term storage is of paramount importance to all that we are, and transmiting that information to future generations is both altruistic and honerable. Why not consider an underground vault / mini city built at the south pole?

    The way I see it, is that if we are interested in expanding the human pressence into the solar system and beyond, then we should at least be able to fabricate one awsome storehouse of knowledge in a very harsh environment.

    Build the thing as though it were a speceship, self contained, self powered and built to last a thousand years. Perhaps it could serve many other functions as well as being just a ‘case hardened’ vault. What beter way to test new technologies and the human spirit than, in a thing that will test them?

    By allowing all nations to participate should keep the vault off the nuke list. I know that there are many vaults of this sort around the world, all I’m saying is build one in a very harsh environment and use it to train for even harsher ones.

  • djlactin July 1, 2009, 22:38

    Greeks beginning to explore the solar system 1000 years ago? Intriguing idea. But I occasionally fantasize about what might have happened if the KT bolide hadn’t wiped out the dinosaurs. There were species (e.g. oviraptors) with manipulative hands and (slightly) greater encephalization than the rest of the group. I know that this doesn’t guarantee evolution of intelligence, but… If not for that catastrophe, perhaps creatures from earth might have begun exploring space 50 million years ago….

  • david lewis July 2, 2009, 0:08

    Remember the dark ages didn’t arise because some external event to humanity caused devastation. It came about because humanity itself rejected rational thought.

    If something were to knock humanity back a few decades in technological progress and the culture that came afterwards was to use it as a reason to reject technology it might not be an external event but we ourselves purposely destroying the data. It wasn’t disease or earthquakes or a tornado that killed Hypathia and burned the books in the Library of Alexandria. It was humans no different in the flesh than you or me – just a little bit of cultural difference. All we need for a new dark age is for enough, not all but just enough, of us to lose that culture. There are plenty of fanatic of various types around who are already willing to begin the burning not just of book but of people.

    (Also note the dark ages wasn’t just a one time thing. Take for example Germany’s embrace of nazism. An enlightened culture rejecting reason and embracing insanity.)

    In that case it won’t matter what artifacts we leave lying around if people are burned as heretics for trying to figure them out or are rewarded for destroying them.

    Maybe the best bet is to place a number of well shielded satellites in high orbit that won’t decay that uses solar power to transmits a long message illustrating various technologies. Soon as people get radio they would get access to that data. All the artifacts placed on earth would have to do is show how to build the radio. A few transmitters could also be buried below the moon’s surface by a few meters with just enough of an antenna above to transmit to ensure protection against events that might damage the ones in orbit – like a massive solar flare.

  • Christopher July 2, 2009, 1:31

    The problem with referencing the dark ages in this analysis is that it reduces human civilization to Europe. While it’s true that technology was lost in Europe at the time, the rest of the world continued to advance. This is true to such an extent, that by the end of the Middle Ages, Europe was really an economic and technological backwater (even so, the term ‘dark ages’ is no longer used by historians, many important technological, political, and economic advances happened during this time). The one thing that ultimately saved it was geography, while a centralized China was busy burning ships that would have ensured it global dominance, geographically and politically fractured Europe was forced to innovate or be conquered by rival nations. Taken as a whole, human science and technology has never stopped advancing, it’s only suffered local and regional setbacks.

    While we are now a global civilization, it would take a truly monumental disaster to take the entire world back to a point that it could not recover from. There would likely still be pockets of innovation.

    Still, even relatively small setbacks can be significant and your point about data storage and preservation is a good one. I would just warn against reducing the entirety of human civilization to Europe.

  • Adam July 2, 2009, 3:43

    Hi All

    The “Dark Ages” was a largely European matter. Other civilizations continued much as before. Global Civilization collapse at our technological level would probably be an extinction level event because all the easy resources would be gone.

  • Zanstel July 2, 2009, 3:44

    I think all changed since the invention of printing press.
    Before that, the information was only on hands of little people who has handmade book.
    After printing, every person with some money could purchase a copy. The information circulates even dictators don’t want. No Dark Ages could lock important information. It could be missed opinions, or some little precise process that could be changed by another one, but not general technology could be restricted forever.
    But a Dark Age is possible, not as a destruction of information but a general restriction to this information.

  • Administrator July 2, 2009, 8:18

    Christopher wrote:

    I would just warn against reducing the entirety of human civilization to Europe.

    Good point. I was just referencing my own experience as a student of European medievalism, and seeing it as an example of what can happen. But the global picture, as you point out, is a much different thing. Interesting to speculate, as we’ve been doing here, as to whether it would take a true civilization-ending event to stop some kind of technological progress on a global scale. It’s also possible to argue that the deep links between societies today are something new in human history, and that economic catastrophe or a medical emergency (a new plague, etc.) could spread worldwide much more quickly than in earlier periods.

  • ljk July 2, 2009, 10:32

    I invite everyone to read the famous SF novel A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller:


    As for the urgency to preserve digital information, check out this article here:


    The relevant quote:

    “If worries about digital preservation seem premature or overly pessimistic about an eventual solution, it’s worth comparing the success of restoring traditional holdings with comparable digital records. In 1975, NASA’s Viking landers sent back reams of data from Mars, where they were scouring for possible evidence of extraterrestrial life. Unfortunately for scientists, the magnetic tapes used for storage became brittle and nearly unusable even after the space agency made considerable efforts to keep them in a properly controlled environment. Beyond the physical obstacles, moreover, scientists in the late 1990s found that they couldn’t read the data format anyway — and they had to crack open the original (analog) printouts to retype them.”

  • Bob Steinke July 2, 2009, 12:34

    I think it’s possible that there could be a pandemic or asteroid impact or something that could kill 10% of the earth’s population, shut down our globally interconnected economy, and leave the other 90% scrambling to become subsistence farmers. After a generation there wouldn’t be anyone left who knew how to build the machines to make silicon chips, etc. We would eventually bounce back because of artifacts left behind, but it would be faster if someone left instructions.

    However, if we are knocked back to the point where we have to reinvent writing I think that would be an extinction event.

  • Russ July 2, 2009, 13:11

    I’m right along with Christopher and Adam. We need to be careful about saying “the dark ages.”

    The advanced traits of the Greco-Roman Enlightenment (philosophy, art, engineering, etc.) were only practiced by a few thousand elites, a great majority of the population was *always* in the dark ages. Before the transformation (“collapse”) of the Western Roman Empire into the Holy Roman Empire–The Catholic Church–many of the philosophers, artists, and engineers had already moved with Emperor Constantine to the east. Here the Byzantine and Abbasid Empires held the torch of civilization until the Ottoman’s chased them out in the 1300s; when everyone moved back to Italy and “started” the Renaissance.

    Collapse is a serious risk today.
    But it will take a much harder blow than invading armies or a massive market collapse to seriously hamper a global culture where billions of elites know how to read, write and collaborate their way out of most messes. The blow that would knock us out would surely be our own fault: killer robots, MASSIVE famine/war due to climate change, genetic plague, etc. I hope that we’ll have a few sustainable space stations effectively running by the time these issues become serious realities; space stations where young elites (likely not yet born) may calmly watch, wait and rebuild after you and I rip ourselves apart.

    Regardless, there is a high likelihood our exponential pace of knowledge will continue uninterrupted (as it always has) far into the future. Yet, have no illusion times won’t be painful. `
    (also, here’s a fine article by Ray Kurzweil: http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1 )

  • Tibor July 2, 2009, 15:17

    There is a proposed Alliance to Rescue Civilization, put forward by Robert Shapiro about 10 years ago – here is the ARC website and this is a short ARC Wikipedia entry with a possible “sanctuary” on the Moon.

  • ljk July 2, 2009, 15:28


    Authors: S. R. Lowe

    (Submitted on 1 Jul 2009)

    Abstract: AstroTwitter aims to make it easy for both professional and amateur telescopes to let the world know what they are observing in real-time.

    Comments: Published in “.Astronomy: Networked Astronomy and the New Media”, 2009, edited by R.J. Simpson, D. Ward-Thompson. Length : 10 pages, 7 figures

    Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Physics and Society (physics.soc-ph)

    Cite as: arXiv:0907.0193v1 [astro-ph.IM]

    Submission history

    From: Stuart Lowe [view email]

    [v1] Wed, 1 Jul 2009 16:30:31 GMT (1051kb)


  • NS July 2, 2009, 16:59

    It’s hard to say how technologically innovative ancient Rome really was. There were some interesting inventions, but seemingly obvious stuff like an animal harness that wouldn’t choke the animal didn’t come along until the middle ages. There were a lot of barriers to innovation (low literacy rates compared to late medieval/early modern times, class differences that prevented intellectuals from communicating with craftsmen, apparently no felt need for labor-saving devices) that might have actually slowed technological progress had the Roman Empire persisted.

  • andy July 2, 2009, 18:32

    I think a fundamental mistake is to assume that a decline in technological ability of humanity would necessarily be due to a catastrophic event, just as it would be a mistake to assume that extinction of technological civilisation would be due to some kind of catastrophe. Species still go extinct even when there isn’t a mass extinction event taking place.

  • Ronald July 3, 2009, 5:41

    This whole topic en discussion strongly remind me of Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy (funny no one mentioned it sofar), in which the imminent galactic dark ages are significantly shortened by storing all knowledge in a galactic encyclopedia.

    I belong to those that think that only a major external event could wipe out our techno civilization and not something internal (like politics, religion, war, etc.). Even the most fanatic and backward cultures in our world make use of modern technology. My concern is not that a certain fanatic ideology could wipe out technology per se, but rather that it might use it for scary purposes.

    Anyway, planetary risk spreading is still the best insurance.

  • george scaglione July 3, 2009, 12:54

    hello all,some very interesting points have been made above.but it all depends on how one looks at things.sure many things, “coulda,woulda,shoulda” been done by now.but i wonder how things have gone in other parts of the galaxy/universe where intelligence has arisen!(?) we are on the brink of quite alot if we are smart enough to not let it slip through our fingers! how it might,or will,work out is probably the grist for dozens of speculative and or science fiction works! god,are we already in july! doesn’t it all slip by!? when i was a boy i thought that by now we would all be talking about this on mars and that alot of answers would already be safely tucked away in our hands! no such luck as it turned out. respectfully my friends,your friend,george

  • Tibor July 3, 2009, 13:49


    the ARC proposal of Shapiro goes back exactly to Asimov’s Foundation, see p. 270-271 of his book “Planetary Dreams”, Wiley, 1999. He writes:

    In the earliest human societies, stories and traditions were passed by word of mouth from generation to generation. In recent times, books and now computers have stored the collective wisdom of our culture, and appropriate groups have dedicated themselves to its preservation. The viewpoint of Cosmic Evolution will need an organization of its own to further its goals in the coming millenium. I will suggest the name “The Foundation”, after the famous science fiction series of Isaac Asimov.

  • John Hunt July 3, 2009, 15:14

    This is a pretty interesting discussion. I’m skeptical about the likelihood that we’ll find ourselves in a new dark ages. However, I can imagine a couple of other reasons why we might want to back up human knowledge.

    One is, how can we transfer our knowledge to a new human civilization established at distance when contact with Earth is lost. This is relevant for an EGR-type of mission, sleeper, world ships, or a self-supporting lunar colony as insurance against extension of Earth humanity. We would be looking at the same question of what information can reasonably be preserved and in what form can be stable and accessible over the long run. Is it feasible to back up the entire Internet in a durable, readable medium of sufficiently small mass? If not, then it would be an interesting question as to what information should be selected.

    The other, more speculative idea would be, should we be thinking about very long-term storage of information in case humanity goes extinct with the hope that some future extraterrestrial civilization would come across our ruins but then reconstitute us from the information that we left behind.

    So imagine that we left a back-up of all of our knowledge buried under the Moon’s regolith. Say someone invents a self-replicating chemical which consumes all CO2 and all life dies. Millions or even billions of years later alien probes comes across our ruins and finds our lunar time capsule. What would we be asking them to do? Yes, obviously, “Please reconstitute our biosphere and reestablish human civilization”. But why not, “and please reconstitute our cultures, religions, and even clones of people who existed with brains mapped with their experiences.” Cells frozen from oral mucosal swabs might give information for clones and their familial relationships. But how about the experiences? We probably cannot convince everyone now to have their brains frozen at death and then transport them to the moon or even have them sliced and imaged. To what extent could aliens reconstitute individuals from people’s written information such as e-mails?

    Highly speculative, but fun to think about!

  • philw1776 July 3, 2009, 18:16

    I’m worried that our civilization could reject techonology in an anti-tech backlash. From the Christian or Muslim fundamentalists, a back to simpler times movement, destroy the books, etc. From the wacko environmentalists, Stop Global Warming, eschew technology and become one with Gaia. Remove all recorded traces of the bad tech that lead to our ‘predicament’. Lots of support for such philosophies in segments of academia and in pop culture, q.v. the end of Battlestar Galactica where the ‘wise’ consensus was to eliminate all interstellar technology, cities, everything techinal and go native with the primitive humans. Abhorrent to me but then I’m not a Hollywood insider.

  • george scaglione July 4, 2009, 12:21

    russ what you say about most of the people being in the dark ages and the true intellectual work being only for a certain few…well you are right! when has that ever been different? i am sorry that that is still very largely the case!!!! i wish paul,by the way the VERY best in italy at his meeting. respectfully to one and all your friend george

  • ljk July 5, 2009, 23:54

    Historic Papers Missing From Archives


    posted: 1 DAY 3 HOURS AGO comments: 454 filed under: National News

    WASHINGTON (July 4) – National Archives visitors know they’ll find the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the main building’s magnificent rotunda in Washington. But they won’t find the patent file for the Wright Brothers’ Flying Machine or the maps for the first atomic bomb missions anywhere in the Archives inventory.

    Many historical items the Archives once possessed are missing, including:

    Over the years, many pieces of America’s history have vanished from the National Archives. Some were stolen. Some were checked out and never returned. Others simply disappeared.

    Here, the first of the three-page patent application for the Wright brothers’ Flying Machine is shown. The document was last seen in 1980.

    — Civil War telegrams from Abraham Lincoln.

    — Original signatures of Andrew Jackson.

    — Presidential portraits of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

    — NASA photographs from space and on the moon.

    — Presidential pardons.

    Some were stolen by researchers or Archives employees. Others simply disappeared without a trace.

    And there’s more gone from the nation’s record keeper.

    Full article here:


  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM July 7, 2009, 13:10

    Interesting but speculative technology.

    First, as for the larger process, I would expect that societies can go both ways. Always a risky business with analogues, but evolution from (among other things) competition between populations can go equally well towards increased number of functions (say, evolution of many social species) as well as decreased (say, evolution of many parasitic species). So should societies from (among other things) competition between cultures. The fittest wins.

    But there are inherent ordering mechanisms in societal development which genetic evolution lacks, such as technological and scientific progress. So with a modicum of self preservation, technological societies should indeed increase functionality indefinitely.

    Second and more to the point, the goal of the documentation or more precisely information preservation technology seems outdated. With the advent of the web, the earlier mere contextual information became contingent and dynamic, dependent on software and know-how instead of hardware and libraries. Static libraries will capture the basics, so they are an essential start, but relying on them would force a long period of recreating the rest on any interregnum survivors.

    ASJ said it. What we want ourselves and those putative survivors of an interregnum to ideally have is small scale (perhaps nano-scale) technological and informational self-replicators. More speculative yet, but addressing the totality of the problem. And the future has a lot of time to while away. :-o

    They should preserve much of the dynamic information (and technology!) from redundancy and ability to build interfaces to contact us at some preset frequency, say every 10 years, while being sturdy enough to survive environmental changes. (One can imagine “dead man grip” with transmitters that heed off unnecessary contact attempts.)

    Besides seeding our homes with them, ideally they would be useful and used everywhere, we can seed geothermal boreholes so there will be an assured supply of them. Um, let’s call them “gray matter goo”.

  • J.Madson July 14, 2009, 16:07

    Howdy…..The tools of 200 years ago aren’t in usage, or hardly in basic knowledge, 200 years from now it will be the same……….. It is only the ego-centric rational person that accomplishes, which is the base for society. It is the ir-rational that steals from accomplishment, for their own ownership and power over another. Which is the bane of Life. The liars, sneaks, and thieves. Why should you have to pay for peoples’ failures?, when all along American philanthropic benevolence takes care of the social failures.? Do you feel guilty if you don’t?, or are you made to feel that way.?……as for communication, every creature communicates through the usage of its’ tools…as Nature becomes measured, the quality of life for people increases, new words and deeds in the lexicon of Human……Non Exhaust Thrust with Faster Than Light Capacity is not a question. It is the only answer. Every country is now a socialist state. Life, Liberty, Freedom is Naturally Sacred…It must be protected……another planet.

  • ljk September 30, 2009, 23:56

    Post-human Earth: How the planet will recover from us

    30 September 2009 by Bob Holmes

    Magazine issue 2728.

    WHEN Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen coined the word Anthropocene around 10 years ago, he gave birth to a powerful idea: that human activity is now affecting the Earth so profoundly that we are entering a new geological epoch.

    The Anthropocene has yet to be accepted as a geological time period, but if it is, it may turn out to be the shortest – and the last. It is not hard to imagine the epoch ending just a few hundred years after it started, in an orgy of global warming and overconsumption.

    Let’s suppose that happens. Humanity’s ever-expanding footprint on the natural world leads, in two or three hundred years, to ecological collapse and a mass extinction. Without fossil fuels to support agriculture, humanity would be in trouble.

    “A lot of things have to die, and a lot of those things are going to be people,” says Tony Barnosky, a palaeontologist at the University of California, Berkeley. In this most pessimistic of scenarios, society would collapse, leaving just a few hundred thousand eking out a meagre existence in a new Stone Age.

    Whether our species would survive is hard to predict, but what of the fate of the Earth itself? It is often said that when we talk about “saving the planet” we are really talking about saving ourselves: the planet will be just fine without us. But would it? Or would an end-Anthropocene cataclysm damage it so badly that it becomes a sterile wasteland?

    The only way to know is to look back into our planet’s past. Neither abrupt global warming nor mass extinction are unique to the present day. The Earth has been here before. So what can we expect this time

    Full article here:


  • ljk March 13, 2012, 20:47
  • ljk April 9, 2012, 11:23

    In 1939, New York City held what was probably the grandest World’s Fair ever seen. Among its many wonders, such as the Futurama exhibit which depicted the future world of the Year 1960 (Yes, this is where Matt Groening of The Simpsons fame got the name for his animated SF television series set in the year 3000), there was a rather elaborate time capsule – originally called a time bomb, but thankfully someone nixed that idea.

    You can get some of the details about this time capsule, set to be open five thousand years from its burial date in the year 6939, and its sequel of sorts from the 1964-1965 World’s Fair buried nearby and to be opened in the same year here:


    I highly recommend that you check out The Book of the Record of the Time Capsule of Cupaloy, which was sent to thousands of libraries all over Earth (including a Tibetan monastery) to keep reminding humanity of the 1939 time capsule’s existence 50 feet below the outskirts of NYC until its opening date in 6939. It is a beautifully rendered and written book, which thanks to the Internet you can read in its entirety here:


    To quote from the introduction:

    “In our time many believe that the human race has reached the ultimate in material and social development; others that humanity shall march onward to achievements splendid beyond the imagination of this day, to new worlds of human wealth, power, life and happiness. We choose, with the latter, to believe that men will solve the problems of the world, that the human race will triumph over its limitations and its adversities, that the future will be glorious.”

    I am also throwing in this link to the above time capsules and some other interesting preservation places to show how at least a portion of recent humanity is trying to make sure that our culture lives on in some fashion for the future, whether to make certain we are not forgotten or to help revive humanity in case something goes drastically south with our civilization: