1.0 What are Race Conditions?
1.1 Not be confused with "the human race" (French origin from Italian, razza); but rather a race of movement (Middle English from Old Norse, ras). It is an expression from electronics and programming which is applicable to other systemic environments. It refers to uncertainty in an output when there is a multiplicity of operations occurring concurrently in the same environment. The multiple signals or threads are in a "race" with each other often with disastrous consequences (e.g., Therac-25 radiation therapy machine).
1.2 Placing locks in a system with race conditions will enforce sequential behaviour (at a cost to parallelism and speed) but may also introduce "deadlocks" which bring signals to a halt (e.g., apocryphal Kansas railway statute) or "livelocks", where signals are active but cannot progress (e.g., polite corridor problem).
1.3 The interactions of human beings with their environment constitutes a massively system with parallel signals, feedback loops, and programmer intervention. Modern science had significantly reduced the degree that this system as a whole is unpredictable; evaluation in such circumstances is carried out in terms of risk evaluation (likelihood and consequences).
2. Natural Race Conditions
2.1 The human species engages in various forms of preventative technologies and systems through knowledge to prevent natural catastrophes, even from the earliest time with contingency plans when there was a failure of particular food sources (which encouraged food storage as a social technology). Artificial flood protection (terpen) has existed along the Channel coast (Netherlands to Denmark) from at least 2500 BCE. The founder of the Xia dynasty in China, Yu the Great (c2200 BCE) developed a system of irrigation canals which relieved floodwater into fields.
2.2 Major predicted natural crises (excluding human-induced effects) include; volcanic eruption (main candidates include Mt Fuji, Cumbre Vieja, earthquake (especially where the subduction zone where the Nazca Plate is moving underneath the South American Plate, earthquake-tsunami at Cascadia subduction zone between the Juan de Fuca and North American continental tectonic plates, San Andreas fault), and a coronal mass ejection (with resultant damage to electrical transmission equipment and power c.f., Carrington event of 1859); AIDS is an active pandemic (36 million currently with HIV, c0.8% of world population, most prevalent in SubSaharan Africa, 1.9 million deaths per annum). Whilst capable of significant loss of life, there is no known impending natural disaster that could cause an extinction event.
2.3 Population growth and carrying capacity of the planet is subject to significant debate. Other natural species are bound by predator-prey relations, and short-term boom-crash cycles in some species (particularly rodents). United Nations World Population Report expects stablisation at 9.5 billion by 2040. Most environmental research considers this to be wel above the planet's carrying capacity (e.g., WWF, Earth Policy Institute). A meta-analysis of 69 such studies suggests a point estimate of the limit to be 7.7 billion people - the earth is currently at 7 billion.
2.4 Note that the possibility of catastrophic near-Earth objects collision (for example) is extremely slim with extensive cataloguing (Sentry Risk Table) and risk calculation (e.g., Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale). Calculations based on size, movement are regularly updated - currently there are no objects that have a positive risk.
3. Technological Race Conditions
3.1 Technological crises take effect as a destruction or imbalance of the environment. The capacity of the atmosphere to absorb infrared radiation from industrialisation and subsequent environment issues constitute a technological race condition. Wildfires from global warming is considered to be of increased significance especially in the western US, significant changes in the sea level in the eastern coast of the US (c300% faster than elsewhere), expected fall of yields of staple crops like rice and maize. WHO claims 150,000 deaths per annum currently and expects 250,000 deaths per annum between 2030-2050 from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. Mitigation (through emission reduction schemes, renewable energy, reforestation etc) is difficult from political variation and "tragedy of the (unregulated) commons". Without mitigation, increased energy demand and extensive use of fossil fuels is expected to see increases in global temperatures of 4 degrees C.
3.1.1 At 1000ppm of CO2, poor air quality is noticeable. At 5000ppm sleepiness and nausea. 40000ppm possibility of brain damage, coma, and death.
3.2 Hugo de Garis speculates on the possibility of artificial intelligences engaging in a war against opponents following a technological singularity ("The Artilect War") with expectations that this would result in billions of deaths; an probable extinction event for the human species. The proposal (with precursors in popular culture such as the Terminator films) has attracted some attention within the AI community. Note that this does not require "strong AI" (indeed a conscious AI would be less likely to engage in such an action), rather autonomous robotic killing machines capable of self-replication would suffice.
3.3 Preventable healthcare (or lack thereof) constitutes a major cause of death. In 2011, according to the World Health Organisation, 55 million people died in 2011, with 2/3rds from non-communicable diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and chronic cardiovascular and lung diseases. This is an increase from 60% in 2010.
4. Political-Economic Race Conditions
4.1 Variation on ideology and political-economy leads to conflict over the influence of systems over geographical areas, which takes its ultimate expression on the battlefield. With enhanced capability "superpowers" acquire the capacity for enormous destruction through thermonuclear weapons etc. External peace becomes a permanent enforced threat as 'mutually assured destruction'. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board tracked the possibility of such destruction through The "Doomsday Clock" (the closest it reached was 1953, followed by 1949 and 1984). Under the NTP, the United States, the United Kingdom, France (also shared through NATO), Russia, and China have nuclear weapons, as do India, Pakistan, and North Korea (outside the NTP), and Israel is suspected.
4.2 Natural resources are finite, and their utilisation and integration into the economic system poses a risk. Once a peak of maximum extraction is reached, utilisation must decline or reserve depletion occurs. This risk can be transferred with new technologies, but there is no assurance. Commonly applied to petroleum ("peak oil"), but also to agricultural land, and various metals (e.g., lead).
4.3 Political conflicts within a state arise from disparities from distribution of resources (e.g., lack of social welfare, class conflict), and a lack of opportunity to participate in the public sphere (e.g., lack of liberal and democratic rights). Civil conflicts are increasingly less likely to be constrained within single states due to geopolitical interests and technological capacity.
5. Philosophical Questions
5.1 The issue of existential threats to the human species is ontological insofar it raises questions about our being in the most visceral sense, whilst also in the establishment of categories. Epistemological questions are raised on the matter of accuracy of knowledges on the various probabilities and the relationship of those probabilities to actions.
5.2 As an independent discipline historically related to philosophy, ethical questions are raised on the degree of expenditure applied in preventative action, the degree that these are autonomous to nation-states or interventions for global issues, and whether differential values are applied according to the different populations.
Presentation to The Philosophy Forum, Sunday 7th of August, 2016