Saturday, March 19, 2016

Denier weirdness: Robot overlords are a bigger threat than global warming Who knew?

Sou | 9:07 PM Go to the first of 14 comments. Add a comment
Anthony Watts doesn't agree with climate scientists. In his latest effort (archived here) he thinks that the biggest threats to humanity are: "the threat of nuclear war, asteroid and comet impacts, a super volcanic eruption, robot overlords, or a global pandemic". I've no doubt that some of these are potential threats, but none are as big a threat as global warming.

This is the YouTube clip to which Anthony Watts objected. We can overcome this biggest of challenges, but will we?

The certainty of climate change compared to other risks

Climate change is a certainty. That's what makes it the arguably the biggest threat humanity has ever faced (outside of Inhumans). We are able to lessen the damage given today's technology. It's a matter of willingness. Anthony Watts isn't willing to reduce this threat.

I don't know what the next biggest risk is, whether it's a nuclear war or a super-volcanic eruption. Both would trigger massive climate change. A nuclear war would be human-caused climate change. If there was a massive volcanic eruption, it probably wouldn't be triggered by our activity, although changes to precipitation patterns are having an effect on seismic events. From Wikipedia:
It has been accepted that the eruption of Toba led to a volcanic winter with a worldwide decrease in temperature between 3 to 5 °C (5.4 to 9.0 °F), and up to 15 °C (27 °F) in higher latitudes. Additional studies in Lake Malawi in East Africa show significant amounts of ash being deposited from the Toba eruptions, even at that great distance, but little indication of a significant climatic effect in East Africa.[6]
Our actions could increase global mean surface temperatures by more than 5 °C, though that wouldn't happen as quickly as the drop in temperature caused by the Toba eruption.  If a supervolcanic eruption happened today and surface temperatures were to plummet by 5 °C within a few months, it would have a devastating effect on food production, which would result in world-wide food shortages. People living in less developed countries would suffer the most, just like they will with human-caused global warming.

Asteroid and comet impacts are much less likely though it would be catastrophic if a comet or large enough asteriod hit Earth. A global pandemic like the Spanish Flu was catastrophic in the normal meaning of the word, but not as potentially devastating as an increase or drop of five degrees in global surface temperature would be.

As for the threat of robot overlords, let's assume that's just Anthony's idea of a joke.

The article that Anthony Watts was complaining about was about one of the world's leading experts in climate science, Professor Raymond Pierrehumbert. He is formerly of the University of Chicago, and now Halley Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford. He's a universe away from the ex-tv weather announcer, Anthony Watts, owner of the climate conspiracy blog WUWT. Professor Pierrehumbert is a graduate of Harvard and MIT. Anthony Watts is a graduate of the University of the Illiterati in Deniersville.

About the only sensible thing Anthony wrote in his article was this:
But it’s the climate skeptics who are labeled the crazy people, not esteemed paragons of “sensibility” like Dr. Pierrehumbert.

From the WUWT comments

The nutters pop out of the WUWT woodwork in droves. Anthony's readers these days are barely literate. That's not surprising, so is Anthony.

vukcevic is basking in busking:
March 18, 2016 at 2:42 pm
At least if there is a sudden demise of AGW science the esteemed Oxford proff, Dr. P might earn decent living by basking at the Oxford Circus tube station (btw not in Oxford)

Rather than think that the honours bestowed on Professor Pierrehumbert signify expertise, markstoval chooses to denigrate Oxford:
March 18, 2016 at 2:46 pm
“Raymond Pierrehumbert has been named the new Halley Professor of Physics at Oxford University.”
Looks like Oxford is not much of a university. (as most these days are not) 

Goldrider might have hit the nail on the head:
March 18, 2016 at 2:50 pm
The biggest threat to humanity is WILLFUL STUPIDITY.

RockyRoad is a good example of Goldriders' "thought":
March 18, 2016 at 7:57 pm
The biggest CLIMATE threat to humanity will be when the next Ice Age returns, not some popular, highly funded meme flag-poled by some crazy prof from the U. of Chicago.

Marcus sinks to silliness in his exuberance:
March 18, 2016 at 2:53 pm
..Didn’t we use to put these people in asylums at one time ? For their own safety, of course ! D’oh !

Judging by his spelling, jimheath could never hope to get a job above janitor status with anyone, let alone the guvmint.
March 18, 2016 at 7:32 pm
This is a man that has never been off the public teet. 

DavidS wants to add superbugs:
March 18, 2016 at 11:59 pm
If the ‘climate challenge’ is to be humanities final exam exam it is logical to assume we are going to fail, otherwise it wouldn’t be our final exam.
Humanities current exam which is very real and much scarier than AGW, is antibiotic resistance and it is happening now. Interestingly it isn’t on the list from The Washington Post. So ok I agree it isn’t going to be global killer like an asteroid impact, but a truly post antibiotic world won’t be the same world we live in now and there will be fewer people living in it. 

References and further reading

Oxford's Halley Professor on How the Climate Challenge Could Derail a Brilliant Human Destiny - article by Andy Revkin in DotEarth at the New York Times, February 2016

Global Catastrophes in Perspective - article by Dr Mark Boslough at Huffington Post, February 2013

Global Catastrophes in Perspective: Asteroid Impacts vs Climate Change - AGU poster (2008) from Mark Boslough and Alan Harris

From the HotWhopper archives


  1. As long as these robot overlords are running a Microsoft operating system they will always need somebody to reboot them.

  2. I've been musing for a few years now that the only way in practice that we will avoid the more serious impacts of human-caused global warming would be if our population in the next decade or two is seriously impacted by... nuclear war or global pandemic. Frankly, I doubt that the former would be permitted to occur beyond a tactically-determined limit, and the latter would never wipe out all humans. Both though are plausible threats to the structure of our civilisation as we currently recognise it, but probably not to humanity. On the other hand a business-as-usual warming trajectory for another half a century or so will most definitely see the collapse of human society to the point that we eventually become an ecological irrelevance once the long-term results of our carbon emissions are fully realised.

    A popping Yellowstone - well, that's going to happen sooner or later, but we'll probably be two dimensional impressions in a near-surface rock stratum by then.

    Robot overlords? Not in the Terminator sense, but I suspect that a hacked artificial intelligence (whether or not sentient) could well cause mayhem for Western society. Traditional societies (to the extent that telecoms and computing do not infiltrate them), not so much.

    Falling space rocks? Again, it's a matter of sooner or later, but we'll likely have found another way of exterminating ourselves before then.

    Most likely from burning dinosaur juice....

  3. I see doug cotton has got an early rebuttal in the videos youtube comments section

    and a reference to the 2nd law of thermodynamics is made in the 2nd sentence - bless

    1. I see another crank, Bob Armstrong, is also there with this little gem:

      Ray [ 48 character long title ] Pierrehumbert , this is a YouTube peer calling you out . Where are the equations or experiments for the trapping of heat between a surface and essentially a stack of filters greater than that between the filters and the heat source ? If you can't express it in an equation , it's not physics .

      Riiight. Because, you know, a YouTube comments section is to peer review as Bozo the Clown is to Richard Feynman.

    2. Bob Armstrong is a special kind of crank -- he is both a denier and a programming language zealot. Every chance he gets, he is pushing APL to solve everyone's equations.

      If you know the history of APL, you will see how absurd this all is.

    3. @whut

      His obsession with the programming language APL is quite odd. As far as I can work out he thinks that because he can do some spherical geometry calculations using APL that makes him an expert on climate change.

      His lectures/videos are completely cringe worthy. He flashes up a series of unrelated slides, with no coherent theme or relevance, and usually finishes with a flourish of a few lines of APL code as if that shows he is some sort of expert in something. But I have never worked out what he is an expert in because he never says anything of substance.

      The people at the Heartland Institute lap it all up. I think that show that they are not very discerning about anything scientific or technical.

    4. If you know the history of APL, you will see how absurd this all is.

      Ha ha. This is almost surreal. I used to program in APL for a Canadian company, and it's a standing joke that it's a "write-only" language. IOW, if you wrote something in it 6 months ago, you can't figure out what you wrote 6 months ago when you look at the code again. In APL, for instance, with a single operator you can reduce a 3D matrix of numbers down into a single number. How useful is that? :-)

      IIRC, APL was a language developed to model computer processing chips, and... well, I just might know a little bit about that. Been programming computers since 1974, and used to design them.

      Love it when some bright spark on the web says something really stupid regarding this subject, which is... pretty much all the time. My fav moment was when some numpty complained that matlab only supported integer arithmetic, so that meant that all of Michael Mann's work that required floating point was completely wrong. Ah, found it. He was confused between 64-bit *integers* and floating point:


      From the comments there:

      We are talking about 64 bit integers. Matlab has 64 bit floating point arithmetic. This means you can do exact integer arithmetic up to 2^53. I'd say mathworks has a pretty good idea of the demand for 64 bit integers and it is not that great -- it's not like it is a huge job for them to implement it so they would surely do it if their customers wanted it.

      The numpties will latch onto anything they think 'disproves' AGW, even if they don't understand an iota of what it's actually about. Pfft.

    5. I Used APL extensively on old IBM Selectrics on a Xerox Sigma 9 back in the mid 70's. Wonderful for exploring various regression and factor analytic models as long as you didn't need too much storage. I think our default workspaces were something like 64K. Still, compared to running early SPSS on punch cards it was a joy.

      Even programmed a word processor to write my dissertation on a Selectric. Of course memory was a problem, but I was allowed a larger workspace.

      That said, I see no particular value now compared many other matrix handling tools. Many tools now--MathCad, R, Python, MATLab, Wolfram, etc.--all handle matrices flexibly now and allow the same easy exploration. And, the extreme compression that APL allows is really not necessarily a good thing for reusable code.

      But is is fun. Or was.

    6. APL is indeed write-only, but its terseness was appreciated when using an IBM 2741 (134.5 bits/second), with of course, the APL type-ball.

    7. Jammy said:
      "His lectures/videos are completely cringe worthy."

      Want to see a cringe-worthy video? Gots to watch the crank Brandon Shollenberger's video on the hockey stick.

      He sounds just like Marvin the Martian from the Bugs Bunny cartoons!

  4. The penny has dropped.


    1. It could be better, PG, but at least looks as if that means that even young earthers are accepting the human influence on climate:


  5. Has anyone had a look at the original 12 Risks that threaten human civilisation report? I had a quick look and I am not sure if it is a useful exercise or sheer babbling. Comparing climate change or ecological collapse with future bad global government sees mad.

    I can report that the graphics are very pretty if almost impossible to interpret sensibly. Who was the idiot who thought it would be a good idea to use 12 weird symbols to indicate data points (Pg 22, 21 and other places) ? I think we have a case of designer-gone-mad here and one who seems to have no concept of effective data presentation (see Fig. 9 for an egregious example of bad practice). Tufte's chart junk expression leaps to mind. As I progress, the level of graphing incompetence seems to be growing.

    I think we can be sure Anthony and his people have not read it.

  6. The difference is global warming is actually happening - the others are speculation. Do we know what global warming will do to the planet? Yes, just look at what the planet was like the last time global average temps were several degrees warmer.


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