AI or… Is it time for another Carrington Event? (Brenda Hiatt)

 From 1900 on, it’s been fairly easy to point to at least one technological advance per decade that changed our lives. Things hardly anyone had heard of at the start of the decade, but were everywhere ten years later. The telephone. Radio. Electrification. Antibiotics. Refrigeration. Television. Transistors. In the 70s, it was microwave ovens and hand-held calculators. VCRs and compact discs in the 80s. Personal computers and the internet in the 90s. Cell phones in the 00s. The 2010s saw the rise of social media, the Kindle, and e-publishing, which transformed the publishing industry. 

While discussing the explosion of new AI applications with my daughter recently, she predicted that the 2020s will someday be known as the decade in which we designed our future overlords. I hope she’s wrong, but suspect she may be right. AI is already transforming our lives in ways both visible and invisible. Some for the worse, some for the better. Applications are proliferating more quickly than we can wrap our brains around them. 

Social media, as some have already pointed out here, has been a huge social disrupter already, much of that driven by algorithms created and administered by AI. There’s no question that algorithm-driven social media has contributed greatly to the current political divide in the US (and elsewhere around the world). It’s hard to see that as anything but a negative. And because AI isn’t overly concerned with facts, it’s also contributing to the breakdown of Truth, making it all too easy to spread lies that are increasingly plausible, to the point of incredibly realistic “deep fake” videos. The ethical issues posed by generative AI are barely beginning to be grasped, though two big concerns have cropped up recently—copyright (both words and images) and ownership of our own likenesses and voices. How these are resolved (if they ever are) will have long-lasting impact on the careers of authors, narrators, actors, screenwriters and countless others.

Since the rise of the “digital age,” and particularly over the past two decades, we’ve become frighteningly dependent on technology most of us don’t even understand. Where would we be if it all disappeared without notice? It could happen. All it would take is a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP), either deliberately caused or as a result of a major solar storm. 

The “Carrington Event” of 1859 was the most intense geomagnetic storm in recorded history. Along with brilliant solar flares and auroral displays that could be seen nearly to the equator, it disrupted most fledgling technology of the time, even delivering electrical shocks to telegraph operators. A similar event today would almost certainly fry every satellite in orbit and take out every power grid on the planet. No cell phones, no internet… In other words, global catastrophe. That’s why quite a few post-apocalyptic novels and movies have used a huge EMP as the precipitating event of an apocalypse. 

Sometimes, with the rise of AI and social media and how it’s changed/is changing our societies, I can’t help wondering if humanity wouldn’t benefit from another Carrington Event. Catastrophic, yes, but it would also serve as a big “reset button” for our species—and our planet, which we seem bent on ruining. It might occur naturally, since solar storms like that are cyclical and we’re actually overdue for one. Or it could be artificially engineered. Will some future AI “entity” quite logically decide humanity needs that kind of reset to keep us from destroying ourselves? Hmm.

Just one more thing to worry about the next time I’m lying awake at 3am. 

Brenda Hiatt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning
Starstruck series, which at one point involves characters racing to prevent an alien-induced Carrington Event. Mindbound, book 11 in that series, releases in August and is available for preorder now!


  1. I've never heard of the Carrington Event! That's absolutely fascinating.

  2. (John Clark) I, too think we're one EMP away from a worldwide wave of helplessness. It might not come from space, There are certain nuclear weapons that can create limited area EMP destruction, and several nations possess them. Glad I live where wild game and firewood are still in plentiful supply. I might need to learn to ride a horse, though.


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