Doomsday talk: Podcaster discusses the end times

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The end is nigh!

Podcaster Josh Clark will host “The End of the World,” a show that unpacks the very real existential threats facing humanity and discusses what we can do to save ourselves. The talk, at the Bell House on Jan. 24, draws from his 10-part podcast series of the same name, each episode of which investigated a different threat to the human species. Clark said that he started the series as a kind of abstract exercise, but became more and more worried about the future as he did his research.

“Originally, I was just intellectually attracted to these ideas, but as I learned more about them and started speaking to philosophers who think about these problems, I realized, ‘This is real! This is a very real thing people are talking about.’ That was a very jarring conclusion,” Clark said.

There are many ways in which we could all perish, according to Clark, including artificially intelligent robots enslaving us, natural risks such as gamma ray bursts and supernovas, and the runaway greenhouse effect — none of which matters if it turns out we are all living in a computer simulation and somebody decides to pull the plug.

“If just one of these risks befalls us, that’s it for humans,” he said.

After a phase of despondency, Clark shifted his focus to informing people about the coming dangers and energizing them to take action, he said.

“I wanted to raise the alarm without being alarmist,” said Clark. “You can’t just say that A.I. will take control of us and expect people to care about it without backing it up with facts.”

Clark is especially worried about the rapid advance of artificial intelligence, specifically how machines are learning to improve themselves without help from humans — something which already manifests itself in our daily lives.

“The kind of A.I. that we have now has gotten really good at recommending movies like the Netflix algorithm, or the real-time translation on Skype,” said Clark.

Those working on the technological cutting edge need to plan ahead by programming so-called “friendliness” into these super-smart machines, making them aware of what is best for people.

“If we haven’t programmed what’s called friendliness into A.I. then we are toast, and no one has figured out how to do that yet,” he said. “We’re releasing loaded guns out into the wild but haven’t figured out how to attach a safety to them yet.”

The current chaos in Washington makes it difficult to focus on long-term threats, said Clark.

“It’s tough to tap people and get their attention and show them that this supersedes all the geopolitics — but there’s not going to be geopolitics and culture if we don’t address it,” he said.

It is up to all of us to make sure we are still around in times to come, said Clark.

“We all have an assignment. In a weird way the future of the human race is in the hands of us today, which has never been the case before. I hope people realize that this is quite real and quite true and are inspired to do something about it,” he said.

“The End of the World” at the Bell House [149 Seventh St. between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus, (718) 643–6510,]. Jan. 24 at 8 pm. $25.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Posted 12:00 am, January 21, 2019
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