Science Festival Event Addresses Doomsday Scenarios

Doomsday Live

Press Release, October 16, 2012

Is the world destined to end before New Year’s?  Will some catastrophic cosmic event terminate life on our planet?  Some people say “yes,” making reference to a widely publicized interpretation of an ancient Maya calendar.

But what’s the truth?  The Maya prophesy is doubtful, but our planet does face some truly existential dangers.  We explore these threats, and how we might forestall them.

On Saturday, October 27, the SETI Institute’s weekly science radio show, Big Picture Science, will take to the stage for an investigation of mortal threats to Earth: what’s likely, and what’s loony?  “Doomsday Live” will be presented at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California as part of the Bay Area Science Festival, and is open to the public.

“Life on Earth has survived without interruption since its beginnings, nearly four billion years ago,” notes Seth Shostak, SETI Institute astronomer and host of Big Picture Science.  “There’s little reason to think that terrestrial catastrophe will strike before Christmas.  Nonetheless, there are some credible catastrophes facing our world – both from beyond our planet and self-induced.  In the next quarter-century, we might confront a devastating asteroid impact or a debilitating  pandemic.”

Among the experts who will be on-stage for “Doomsday Live” is Ken Caldeira, climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology, Stanford University.  The relatively abrupt warming of our planet is no longer controversial among researchers.  Caldeira is trying to model its physical, economic and political consequences. 

Foothill College astronomer Andy Fraknoi will address the impact of large rocks from space, as well as other cosmic dangers.  There’s no doubt that eventually an asteroid will slam into our planet.  But is the threat immediate, and could we somehow divert an impactor on a collision course for Earth?

Luke Muehlhauser, the Executive Director of the Singularity Institute, and Bradley Voytek, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, will talk about another possible upheaval – one that could be the unintended consequence of our technological progress.  Within two decades, home computers will have the computational power of a human brain.  What happens if machines of the future become both intelligent and self-aware?  Could we safely assume they will be sympathetic to humanity’s wishes and needs?

Epidemiologist Kirsten Gilardi treats gorillas in the wild, but also monitors global pandemics. Discover why a spillover from wild animals to humans may create a killer pandemic.

“Why are we taking to the stage?  There’s nothing as energetic and unpredictable as a live performance,” says Molly Bentley, Big Picture Science’s co-host and executive producer.  “And these topics – of interest to everyone – are a great way to promote an understanding of science and the methods of today’s research.”

“Doomsday Live” will take place October 27, from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.  The guest experts will be in conversation with Shostak and Bentley, and the audience will also be invited to participate.   The event will be podcast and broadcast on the more than 80 stations that carry Big Picture Science.

While admission is free, seating is limited, so those interested in attending should register at:

The museum is located at:
1401 North Shoreline Boulevard
Mountain View, CA  94043

About the Museum
The Computer History Museum is the world’s leading institution exploring the history of computing and its ongoing impact on society. It is home to the largest international collection of computing artifacts in the world, including computer hardware, software, documentation, ephemera, photographs, and moving images. The Museum brings computer history to life through an acclaimed speaker series, education programs dynamic website, on-site tours, and exhibitions.

The Experience
Spend the afternoon at the Computer History Museum’s new state of the art large-scale exhibition. Learn about 2000 years of computing, from ancient times to today’s Internet. You will enjoy 1,000+ unique artifacts, hundreds of videos, docent-led tours and vintage technology demonstrations. The museum also has a new café, gift store and plenty of parking.

About the SETI Institute
The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.  The SETI Institute is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research, education and public outreach. The Institute comprises three centers, the Center for SETI Research, the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe and the Center for Education and Public Outreach founded in November 1984, the SETI Institute began operations on February 1, 1985. Today it employs over 150 scientists, educators and support staff.  For more information,  650-961-6633.