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The Internet could be humanity's biggest threat

The Internet could be humanity's biggest threat
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There are a lot of things the Internet makes better. Instant communication around the world is a good thing for keeping families and friends in touch. Businesses can use telecommuting to save on building overhead, and employees to save on fuel.

With a simple online search, you can learn just about anything you ever wanted to know on any topic. The entire history of human knowledge is at your fingertips. So, why are some experts saying the Internet is humanity's biggest threat?

I'll tell you right off that this isn't a cynical, "the Internet rots people's brains and makes them unable to function like normal humans" theory. That's been said about radio and TV as well, and while there's some truth to it, people are still people.

No, experts have a different concern about the Internet. Namely, it can bring down governments, crash economies, start World War III and even replace the entire human race.

A Cambridge project called the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk is looking very seriously at "threats posed by technological advances, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology and climate change."

As Cambridge philosophy professor Huw Price says, "[I]t is a comparatively new idea that developing technologies might lead - perhaps accidentally, and perhaps very rapidly, once a certain point is reached - to direct, extinction-level threats to our species."

In the short term, the worry is that a small group of people using social media can bring down a government, as in the 2011 Egyptian revolution, or the damage to the U.S. government from leaked information by Julian Assange, Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden.

There's also the worry hackers can bring down a country's critical infrastructure, like the power grid. This could literally cause a country to fall apart.

Hackers taking down an economy isn't so far-fetched. They're already disrupting major companies, as we're seeing with the Sony hack. In fact, CSER believes 2015 will see at least one company fold due to hacking. With enough companies in trouble, the economy could become unbalanced.

Hackers can also affect things like the stock market through hacking, or just putting rumors up online that cause traders to pull their money out. Back in 2013, a rumor on the Associated Press's hacked Twitter account of an explosion at the White House sent stocks tumbling before it was revealed to be a hoax.

The Internet is also being used to attack countries. Russia and China have broken into major U.S. companies and even government computers. The U.S., I'm sure, is striking back and was implicated in the Stuxnet worm that damaged Iran's nuclear enrichment program.

At some point, the hacking is going to reach a point where the only response is the use of real-world military power. At that point, CSER believes we'll have World War III.

That's not what CSER believes will end the human race, though. Along with great minds like physicist Stephen Hawking and inventor-CEO Elon Musk, it thinks the end will come from artificial intelligence.

With technology developing as rapidly as it is, thinking machines probably will happen within the next hundred years. At that point, they might not need humans around anymore.

A lot of people envision an apocalypse like you see in "Terminator" or "The Matrix." But I actually think - if it happens - it will be more like the Pixar movie "Wall-E."

Humans will let the machines run everything while we sit around doing nothing of importance. Eventually, we'll just fade away.

Fortunately, that final possibility is a long time coming. Still, it wouldn't hurt to teach our kids, or ourselves, to disconnect from technology and go outside once in a while.

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Source: Daily Mail
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