Our Final Hour
Our Final Hour is a 2003 book by the British Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees. The full title of the book is Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future In This Century - On Earth and Beyond. It was published in the United Kingdom under the more prosaic title Our Final Century: Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-first Century?. The premise of the book is that the Earth and human survival are in far greater danger from the potential effects of modern technology than is commonly realised, and that the 21st century may be a critical moment in history when humanity's fate is decided. Rees discusses a range of existential risks confronting humanity, and controversially estimates that the probability of extinction before 2100 CE is around 50 percent, based on the possibility of malign or accidental release of destructive technology.
Humanity's fate and recommendations for survival
In Our Final Hour, Rees predicts that one of the two following outcomes is inevitable for humanity:
- Human extinction, as a result of the runaway effects of new technology (e.g. nanotechnology) or uncontrolled scientific research; terrorist or fundamentalist violence; or destruction of the biosphere; or
- Human expansion throughout space, by minimising, avoiding or overcoming these problems.
In order to avoid human extinction, Rees advocates control of scientific research worldwide, and control of open access to such research. He states that, in the 1990s, Aum Shinrikyo tried unsuccessfully to obtain an Ebola virus sample, which they could now create in their Mount Fuji lab, using ingredients and instructions from the Internet.
Rees has long been active in disarmament campaigns, and although he now sees nuclear warfare as a less probable cause of extinction, he advocates arms control as much as control of science and technology (see also World government). More concerning to him now is the possibility of major bioterrorist attacks, as evidenced by his outstanding bet (registered with the Long Bet Project) that such events will occur within the next twenty years.
- Review by Oliver Morton in The Guardian — Morton believes that Rees's 50% chance of extinction is too high and states that "defences against bioterror will evolve in step with the threat. It is entirely conceivable that there will be no last move, and no final 'game over'".
- Review by The Telegraph
- Review by BBC News
- Review by Publishers Weekly
- Review by John Derbyshire in The National Review — Derbyshire is convinced by Rees's argument and considers that human extinction does not seem improbable.
- Review by The Universe Today which finds the book "makes some well-reasoned arguments about the dangers of scientific exploration" but is "short on solutions that could help guide policy".
- Rees does not object to the probabilistic argument for human extinction offered by the Doomsday argument (as championed by John Leslie in the 1996 book The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction (Routledge, hardcover: ISBN 0-415-14043-9, paperback: ISBN 0-415-18447-9)), but he does not consider it to describe the practical threats and solutions that he discusses.
- In The Singularity is Near, Raymond Kurzweil reaches the same conclusion as Rees on the probability of human extinction within the 21st century.
- In the 2004 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking Adult, ISBN 0-670-03337-5), Jared Diamond suggests that Sir Martin's hopes of worldwide cooperation in avoiding extinction scenarios may be in vain.
- Ronald Wright, who quotes Martin Rees with approval in A Short History of Progress (at p. 125–6), is just as pessimistic – much more so than Jared Diamond – and argues that human history reveals a disastrous series of technological progress traps.
- end of civilization
- Fermi paradox
- human extinction
- societal collapse
- technological singularity
- Sir Martin Rees, Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future In This Century—On Earth and Beyond (2003), Basic Books, hardcover: ISBN 0-465-06862-6, 2004 paperback: ISBN 0-465-06863-4
- Sir Martin Rees, Our Final Century?: Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-first Century? (2003) (UK) William Heinemann, hardcover: ISBN 0-434-00809-5, 2004 Arrow paperback: ISBN 0-09-943686-8