1. ITV Report

Scientists draw up Earth doomsday list

Scientists draw up a doomsday list which could threaten the Earth in the 21st century and years to come Photo: Gerard Fritz/Eye Ubiquitous/Press Association Images

A doomsday list of "existential risks" that could threaten our planet has been drawn up by leading scientists.

Rampant climate change, bioterrorism and intelligent computers are among the dangers being investigated by a group which includes Astronomer Royal Lord Rees and physicist Professor Stephen Hawking.

In a speech to the British Science Festival in Newcastle, Lord Rees said: "In future decades, events with low probability but catastrophic consequences may loom high on the political agenda.

"That's why some of us in Cambridge - both natural and social scientists - plan, with colleagues at Oxford and elsewhere, to inaugurate a research programme to compile a more complete register of these existential risks and to assess how to enhance resilience against the more credible ones."

The Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) is currently looking funding for a range of research projects.

Speaking at the University of Newcastle, Lord Rees described some of the issues which give him and his colleagues most concern.

They included out-of-control climate change, potential runaway technologies such as artificial intelligence and synthetic biology, and cyber or bioterrorism.

"We fret too much about minor hazards of everyday life: improbable air crashes, carcinogens in food, low radiation doses, and so forth," said Lord Rees.

He went on to say that we should be more concerned about wider threats to the environment, and the vulnerability of the digital world by human error or terror attacks.

"To survive this century," he said, "we'll need the idealistic and effective efforts of natural scientists, environmentalists, social scientists and humanists.

"They must be guided by the insights that 21st century science will offer, but inspired by values that science itself can't provide."