Determining Threats using One Punch Man

How an anime series can help us assess the biggest dangers facing us today

Many are familiar with the anime show One Punch Man, with its unbeatable protagonist and satirical humor. But there’s one thing in it that could actually be applied to our world, which is its use of Threat Levels. In the show, all enemies are designated under certain threat levels. They are as follows.

  • Wolf: Any potential threat that poses a danger to an unknown degree.

Let’s go over how these could be applied to our world.

Terrorism

Threat Level: Tiger

We have seen the effects terrorism can cause. It can create widespread fear, and devastate thousands of lives. It is certainly a threat to consider and monitor. But with conventional means, this threat is not capable of being higher than Tiger, despite its dangers.

Cyber Warfare

Threat Level: Demon

Cyber Warfare is rarely thought of the way we think of real warfare. Beyond hacking foreign politicians and election meddling, there are many other attacks that could cause great harm. One of each would be to hack the grid of a major country. Though recovery would be possible, an entire industrialized region suddenly having no power would create turmoil, panic, and death.

Natural Pandemic

Threat Level: Demon

We are very familiar with this by now. A natural pandemic has the potential to shake economies, alter society, create civil unrest, and strain the entire financial and global system. It also has the power of having long-term effects not currently seen, such as the effects on the economy and psychology. Despite all of this, this does not count as a Dragon-level threat. A dragon-level threat wouldn’t be a normal pandemic.

Engineered Pandemic

Threat Level: Dragon

If a virus is engineered, intentionally or unintentionally, with an extremely-high mortality rate, long incubation, and high rate of infection and mutation, then we are facing a pandemic on a scale humanity has never seen before. Defending against such a threat would be difficult. We have seen how hard it is to handle a normal pandemic on a global scale. The panic, desperation, and difficulty would strain every world government’s capabilities, and create great turmoil and instability. Despite how terrifying the effects would be, humanity would still likely survive. Not everyone in every remote region could possibly get the virus. And not everyone, even if engineered, would die from it. For this reason, it is categorized as a Dragon Level threat.

Climate Change

Threat Level: Dragon

Climate Change has certainly been talked about a lot, even if sufficient action to mitigate it has been lacking. The decades-long effect of atmospheric tampering could have thousands of unforeseen consequences, and many might be hard to control once they take effect. The number killed if action isn’t taken could be catastrophic, even in the billions. And it’s possible we have already passed a point-of-no-return, unless new technology is developed and used.

Why isn’t this a God-level threat? Because even with all the horrors, it’s unlikely it could actually bring humanity to extinction. But it might create food shortages, mass migrations, civil conflicts, and many other dangers that could greatly wound civilization and cause large amounts of harm.

Nuclear War

Threat Level: Dragon

This is one of the biggest concerns for humanity. There have been several close calls, where humanity has come close to destroying much of civilization. And even though the Cold War is (only sort of) over, the weapons created for it have never been destroyed. They are ready for use at every moment. And a small thing, like an error in missile detection, could turn civilization upside-down overnight.

So why isn’t this a God-level threat? Because, even if all the nuclear bombs could wipe out humanity, that wouldn’t be the intention. The intention would be for each side to destroy the enemy’s infrastructure and ability to fight back. Less developed parts of the world would not be targeted. And even with a nuclear winter, the southern hemisphere of the planet would still be habitable for humans, but our species would be greatly crippled.

Artificial Superintelligence

Threat Level: God

All of the things mentioned before now are great threats to humanity, but none of them seem big enough to truly be an existential threat. But all of humanity’s dangerous technologies are the result of something: our intelligence. Our intelligence is how we have the power to exterminate any other species on Earth, should we choose to do it. Bears, whales, chimpanzees: their entire existence is at the mercy of our intelligence. But what if we create something that has far greater intelligence than our own? Suddenly our species is at the mercy of something completely new. Something that may not think like a human, or even think like an animal. An entity that has never before existed. Something that could almost be called a God.

Black Marbles

Threat Level: God

For all the technology we know, there is still technology we don’t know about. If you asked experts a century ago what the biggest threats were, it’s unlikely any of them would mention Nuclear War, Climate Change, or Artificial Intelligence. We always have to account for unknown Unknowns. The futurist Nick Bostrom refers to each new technology as putting your hand into a bowl, and pulling out a marble. Most marbles will be mostly beneficially to humanity: these marbles are green. Some will be potentially very destructive, such as nuclear weapons: red marbles. But some might be technologies that are easy to create, with high destructive capacity, or single-handedly capable of human extinction with one single use: black marbles. We don’t know how many black marbles are in the bowl, but we continue to put our hands in, and pull out marbles over and over. If the hand of civilization ever draws out such a marble, we may not have enough time to prepare before it is too late. Some marbles might be Wolves, others Tigers, some Dragons, but a few might be Gods.

What threats do you think are most dangerous to our survival? Or maybe you’re hoping a Saitama will show up to save the day. You can learn more by reading through the resources below, and decide if you want to donate or be involved. There’s nothing wrong with being “a hero for fun”.

There is an interactive version of this article here.

Resources

80,000 Hours

Global Priorities Institute

Positively Shaping Artificial Intelligence

Nuclear Security

Climate Change (extreme risks)

Effective Altruism

The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence

Superintelligence

Long Term Future Fund

MIRI

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I’m also on Mirror: https://mirror.xyz/0x4D3eF5E73581ccB604557CeE7c0B8ce89C7753A5

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