My favorite story recently is about the lawsuit to stop the $8 billion Large Hadron Collider out of fear that it might shrink the universe to the size of a gnat turd. And I don’t mean the plump and juicy kind.
One of the reasons I like my job is that the worst mistake I can make is to offend someone, and I enjoy that too. I would never want to be a NASA engineer, for example, knowing that one wrong calculation lands the Space Shuttle on the Sun. And I really, really, really, wouldn’t want to be one of the engineers working on the Large Hadron Collider, no matter how sure I was that it was safe. There’s always that little chance of annihilating the universe, and it’s exactly the sort of mistake I would make.
On the plus side, no one would say, “I told you so.” I guess that would take some of the sting out of it.
I don’t know how you ever get comfortable with any level of risk of destroying the universe. If you were to do an expected value calculation, multiplying the tiny risk times the potential cost, it would still come out infinitely expensive.
And who exactly ran the numbers to decide it wasn’t that risky? After all, the whole point of the Large Hadron Collider is to create conditions that are not predictable. If someone already predicted what would happen using nothing but his laptop and Excel, and determined it was safe, I don’t think we’re getting our $8 billion worth.
I can’t see the management of this project spending $8 billion, realizing it was a huge boner, and then holding a press conference suggesting it be turned into a parking garage. I’ll bet a lot of people in that position would take at least a 5% risk of incinerating the galaxy versus incinerating their own careers. I know I would.
If the lawsuit succeeds, imagine trying to get another job with that project failure on your resume.
Interviewer: “So, you spent $8 billion dollars trying to build a machine that would either discover something cool or destroy the universe. Is it fair to say you are not a people person?”