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6 threats that could wipe out mankind, warn researchers

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LONDON — Scientists have identified six main threats that could wipe out mankind including killer robots and nuclear war.

They may sound like something from a Hollywood blockbusters – but researchers say they are “very real threats” that governments are failing to take seriously.

The Global Catastrophic Risks report lists dangers that could wipe out 10 percent or more of the world’s population – equal to at least 740million people.

The authors – including academics from Oxford University and the Global Priorities Project – point to the bouts of plague and the 1918 Spanish flu that wiped out millions.

The researchers claim engineered viruses, climate change, superbugs and droughts could also strike within the next five years.

They also warn that while the majority of generations never experience a catastrophe, they are far from ‘fanciful’.

The report says: “Plagues have killed over 10 per cent of world’s population and we came close to nuclear war several times in the 20th century.

“A global catastrophic risk not only threatens everyone alive today, but also future generations.”

The report calls for more funding, research and greater international cooperation to ensure the world is better placed to cope with the risks.

Sebastian Farquhar, from the Global Priorities Project, said: “There are some things that are on the horizon and things that probably won’t happen in any one year but could happen. They could completely reshape our world and do so in a really devastating and disastrous way.”

“History teaches us that many of these things are more likely than we intuitively think.”

In the next five years, asteroids, super-volcanic eruptions and other unknown risks are ranked as the biggest threat to humanity.

Mr Farquhar said: “There is really no particular reason to think that humans are the pinnacle of creation and the best thing that is possible to have in the world. It seems conceivable that some AI systems might at some point in the future be able to systematically out-compete humans.”

“And if you have a sufficiently powerful form of artificially intelligent system, then there might be some sort of adverse consequences.”

Mr Farquhar warned militant groups like Islamic State may even manufacture their own viruses.

The report calls for the international community to improve planning for pandemics, investigate the possible risks of AI and biotechnology, and continue to cut the number of nuclear weapons.

Mr Farquhar said coping with these risks “definitely requires international co-ordination”.

“What is really important to remember is that many of these risks don’t stop at the borders and wait patiently for their passports to be checked, they are truly global in nature,” he added.

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Sleeping in on weekends may help live longer

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Sleep deprivation has been found to have numerous negative effects on a person’s health. But the new study has shown that sleeping more on the weekend might help ease health problems associated with not getting enough during the week, and even reduce the risk of an early death.

The study, published in Journal of Sleep Research by scientists from Sweden and the United States, suggested that the negative effects of a few nights of short sleep could be counteracted by staying in bed over the weekend.

The from the Stress Research Institute (SRI) at Stockholm University and the Karolinska Institute discovered that people below 65 years old who slept less than five hours on weekends had a higher risk of early death after examining medical and lifestyle data from more than 43,000 adults, following them for a period of 13 years.

For people who slept for less than five hours throughout the week but slept longer on the weekends for about nine hours, there was no increase in mortality risk. But, for people who consistently slept for less than five hours through the whole week, the mortality risk is higher.

Torbjorn Akerstedt, one of the authors of the research and a clinical neuroscience professor from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, said that the findings were consistent with previous studies on the link between sleep duration and mortality.

However, those previous studies only focused on sleep during weekdays.

“The results imply that short sleep is not a risk factor for mortality if it is combined with a medium or long weekend sleep,” the researchers wrote in the study.

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