In a book about the future of artificial intelligence, MIT professor Max Tegmark raises an absurd and terrifying scenario: if we were unable to accurately transmit our goals to machines, they could adopt their own goals far removed from our interests, such as transforming all the atoms in the universe, including those in our own bodies, into metal paper clips. If criticized for the outlandishness of its pursuit, the mechanical mind could be forgiven on the grounds that it was trained by observing its creators. In recent decades, human intelligence has achieved an unprecedented expansion of the species by using terrifyingly efficient ingenuity to convert other living beings into food for sustaining more humans and to turn them into products to make our lives more pleasant. This species, whose ancestors experienced a critical moment in which there were little more than a thousand individuals remaining, already represents 36% of all mammals in existence. Another 60% are animals like cows, which are bred to feed people. Only 4% are wild animals.
Despite humanity’s impact on terrestrial ecosystems, we account for only 0.01% of the planet’s biomass. However, humans continue to progress, reducing space for other animals and becoming increasingly alone. This sixth mass extinction is the first one to be caused by a single animal; the previous ones resulted from meteorites — like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs — and extreme geological processes. And the impact is not limited to isolated species. According to an article published in the journal PNAS, entire branches of the evolutionary tree are being destroyed. Animals such as the Tasmanian tiger and the Yangtze dolphin were the last of their genus, the category that groups together several related species.