June 27, 2008

Small is more beautiful than Bruce Willis

Compleat orreryOn ethical perspectives on the news I blog about Practical Ethics: Duck and cover: how expensive does impact safety have to be?

Based on the coverage in Nature, I argue that NEO defence can be done in a rather low-key fashion: continued tracking, development of better impact prediction models and setting up civil defence plans for imminent impact. This could all be done for pretty low investments, completely unlike most macho planetary defence programs but likely much more effective in reducing risk.

The big problem is of course that unglamorous, inexpensive programs don't get you elected and will not be the foundation for a great administrative empire. Maybe we need to scale up existential risk threat management projects into a big government concern for it to happen. Suddenly it would be a good career move to be manager of Refuge Cave Red 8 or Planetary Protection Officer. Of course, we should also expect a tremendous amount of waste in such a scaling-up, including just as many useless projects and as much mission creep as in any normal-sized War Against X. It would be interesting to analyse the cost per life-year saved for differently sized projects. I expect that saving mankind from many disasters can be done very cheaply, but that doing it reliably may be very costly.

Posted by Anders3 at June 27, 2008 03:58 PM