We all know the world is a dangerous place, but however dangerous you think it might be, it's worse than you thought. I've been looking through the web site of the Lifeboat Foundation, which is dedicated to the study and prevention of "existential risks" - risks that are both global and terminal. The sad fact is that many of the technologies that could make life better in the future have a "dark side" that could make life much worse, or even end human (and perhaps all) life completely.
These technologies include genetics, nanotechnology, robotics, and others. Of course "conventional" terrorism and nuclear weapons are also risks, but the newer fields have the disturbing feature that the resources required to use and abuse these technologies are small (i.e., small lab facilities and powerful computers that are widely available). In the next few years, groups and even individuals working at the molecular level with biological or nanotechnology methods could create destructive organisms or devices, accidentally or intentionally, much like computer viruses today. But these could be real viruses that would infect people, not their computers.
I wish this were science fiction, but alas it is not. The Lifeboat Foundation has 200 high-power people on its scientific advisory board, with 23 sub-boards and 21 research programs. They are also looking at what to do if the various shield programs are not enough and something really bad and global happens anyway. This is the lifeboat side of things, looking at ways to preserve at least some of humankind. So yes, there's a space connection here (Lifeboat Foundation space habitats). But it's much more than that.
I think it's time to find out more about these risks, and to urge our government to take these things seriously and to increase funding for defense against these dangers. Unlike the 9/11 attacks, there may not be time after the fact to figure out what to do. Existential risks require proactive actions. Senator Bill Frist proposed in 2005 a 21st century "Manhattan project" to prepare to respond to epidemics and bioterrorism. That might be a good start at the government level, but the Lifeboat Foundation is casting an even wider net.
We certainly all hope that none of the things the Lifeboat Foundation is concerned about ever really happens. But as General Tommy Franks said once in a different context, "I learned long ago that hope is not a strategy."