World leaders at at the 2013 World Economic Forum held in Davos, Swtizerland this January, asked the attending editors and journalists to identify five of the most potentially disruptive of the "unheralded" risks, which they dubbed ‘X factors'" according to Nature.com.*The report put together by Nature, titled "Global Risks 2013," came up with a list of five "X factors" that world leaders need to prepare for to avoid what it described as "systemic shocks and catastrophic events.
The "X factors" are described in the reports as factors that "no country alone can prevent," and illustrates the notion of an "X factor" as an "unheralded" event that may suddenly confront humanity.
Among the five "X factors" identified was “Discovery of Alien Life." "Given the pace of space exploration, it is increasingly conceivable that we may discover the existence of alien life or other planets that could support human life," said the WEF. "What would be the effects on science funding flows and humanity’s self-image?"
WEF.org observed that "It was only in 1995 that we first found evidence that other stars also have planets orbiting them. Now thousands of 'exoplanets' revolving around distant stars have been detected. NASA’s Kepler mission to identify Earth-sized planets located in the 'Goldilocks zone' (not too hot, not too cold) of sun-like stars has been operating for only three years and has already turned up thousands of candidates, including one the size of Earth. The fact that Kepler has found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests that there are countless Earth-like planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy. In 10 years’ time we may have evidence not only that Earth is not unique but also that life exists elsewhere in the universe."
Among the other X Factors: "Neuroscientists, for instance, are avidly pursuing drugs and devices that could deliver real cognitive enhancement — not just sharpening our alertness and ability to focus, as certain drugs already do, but upping our intellectual firepower.
"Climatologists have more mixed feelings about schemes for geoengineering — deliberately altering the climate system to combat the effects of rising greenhouse-gas emissions. In one scenario, high-flying jets or balloons would release a haze of sulphate particles into the stratosphere, dimming the Sun’s rays and cooling the planet.
Other X factors that Nature staff identified included: the societal burden of the millions of people who, thanks to progress against killer diseases, will join the ranks of the disabled and those with dementia; catastrophic climate feedback such as the collapse of an ice sheet; and the possible social consequences of contact with alien life."
Image at the top of the page shows NASA artist rendering of the first rocky planet found by NASA's Kepler mission, named Kepler-10b. The planet measures 1.4 times the size of Earth and is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system.
Image credits: UPI/NASA
Source: The Daily Galaxy via Nature and WEF