The author of “The Doomsday Calculation” estimates that there is a 50 percent chance the human race will die off within the next 760 years. In the book, author William Poundstone applies the mathematical approach of Princeton University astrophysicist J. Richard Gott III to estimate when humans will officially die off.
According to The Daily Mail, this mathematical method is said to work to predict the likely length of existence of anything of an uncertain duration so long as it’s being encountered at a random point in time. “Obviously, if you have any specific information affecting the life span of, say, the human race, or a class of stars, you can estimate its life span more realistically,” Gott told the New York Times in 1993. “But this statistical method allows you to make at least a rough estimate of a life span without knowing anything more than how long something has existed,” he added.
In an article published byVox, Poundstone explained the Copernican method he used to arrive at his prediction. The Copernican principle came from Copernicus, the great Renaissance astronomer, who declared Earth was not the center of the universe.
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“Demographers have estimated the total number of people who ever lived at about 100 billion. That means that about 100 billion people were born before me,” Poundstone said. “Currently, about 130 million people are born each year. At that rate, it would take only about 760 years for another 100 billion more people to be born. That’s the basis of the claim that there’s a 50 percent chance that humans will become extinct within about 760 years. The flip side of the claim is there’s also a 50 percent chance we’ll survive past 760 years, possibly long past that.”
After graduating from Harvard with a physics degree, Gott used this method to predict the demolition of the Berlin Wall. He estimated that there was a 50 percent chance the wall would come down no later than 24 years from that day, but that it would stand for at least two and two-thirds years more. The demolition of the wall officially began on June 13, 1990, roughly 21 years later, reported The Daily Mail.
Poundstone wrote: “[Gott] reasoned that this prediction had a 50 percent chance of being right. You may feel that 50 percent is too wishy-washy and Gott just got lucky. No problem: The method can supply predictions with any degree of confidence you choose. To achieve 95 percent confidence, you’d make a diagram with the shaded region covering the middle 95 percent of the bar. The prediction range would be wider (from 1/39 to 39 times the past duration). Had Gott used this formulation, his prediction for the wall’s ceasing to exist would have been 0.21 to 312 years after his visit. This is less impressive, given the extremely wide range — but it would have been correct, too.”
Using his own method in 1993, Gott estimated the end of humanity with a 95% probability of accuracy. He wrote about it in a scientific journal called Nature. “Making only the assumption that you are a random intelligent observer, limits for the total longevity of our species of 0.2 million to 8 million years can be derived at the 95 [percent] confidence level,” Gott said, in the abstract for the article.
But here’s where things get really interesting: Bayes’ theorem can also be used to lay odds on the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence; on whether we live in a Matrix-like counterfeit of reality; on the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum theory being correct; and on the biggest question of all: how long will humanity survive? –The Doomsday Calculation, book description