Today, we are releasing an existential risk policy database: https://www.gcrpolicy.com/ideas

This database collects and categorises the policy ideas and recommendations put forward by the field of existential risk studies.

If this field wants to maximise its impact, it needs to develop and communicate high quality policy ideas. Many in the field are trying to do so. However, until now, policy ideas are spread across various sources, at varying levels of specificity or quality, for different jurisdictions, and on different aspects of the risks.

The purpose of this database is to enable researchers and other members of the field to quickly identify policy ideas for existential and global catastrophic risks. For example, the database could help researchers to select and package up the policy ideas, such as for a meeting with a policy-maker or researching for a paper. The database may also reveal gaps where more policy work is needed, such as risks that have few or flawed policy ideas.

As at 7 Feb 2022, 257 policy ideas from 37 sources have been included in a full (non-public) database. The publicly accessible version of the database we are releasing today only includes those ideas deemed sufficiently specific, effective or feasible. The judgment is not based on thorough analysis - it is a prima facie assessment based on the views of the database contributors. We’ve cut a reasonably high threshold at this stage to ensure we are not promoting ideas that lack specificity or are not ‘ready for prime time’. We will look to reassess or loosen to have many more ideas included. 

This is just the start. We intend to continue improving the database. For now, we hope you find the database a useful resource for your policy endeavours.

If you wish to view the full database, please contact Rumtin on rs2068@cam.ac.uk.
 

Q&A

Which sources are included?

So far, we have focused on post-2015 works by individuals or organisations that entirely or explicitly focus on existential and global catastrophic risk. In the full database, we seek to cast a wide net. We include ideas from both formal products - such as academic papers, policy papers and submissions, technical reports and books - as well as from less formal settings, such as podcasts, forum posts or unpublished shared documents. In the publicly accessible database, however, we filter out the informal works.

 

What is a ‘policy idea’?

A policy idea is where the author(s) suggest or recommend a course of action for a national government or international body. 

For sake of completeness, vague policy ideas or broad policy goals (‘The government should improve its understanding of existential risk”) are included in the full database, but are filtered out for the publicly available version. We also err on the side of including long-termist ideas even if they are not strictly related to existential risk.

 

What can I expect next?

This database require more work to make it a more powerful resource. The following steps are being considered:

  1. Mine more sources for policy ideas. (We are roughly 15% of the way through the possible policy-relevant works on existential and global catastrophic risk)
  2. Properly evaluate existing policy ideas to identify and promote the set of high-quality ideas.
  3. Set up a google form so that individuals can submit their own policy ideas.
  4. Develop short policy briefs for specific risks or risk areas that combine and present policy ideas in a digestible manner.

We intend to submit a funding application to hire researchers that can complete this work.
 

Any interesting insights so far?

We have some very early findings - though take them with a grain of salt given the relatively early state of the database. As more sources are included, we will have better and more specific findings:

  • We have identified 338 academic articles and reports since 2016 related to existential and global catastrophic risk. About half of these are policy relevant, of which around a third have policy ideas.
  • Most policy ideas are related to general risk management, AI, biological risks and nuclear weapons - though the policy ideas relating to AI and nuclear weapons are not as well-developed.
  • Most policy ideas are related to improving how governments and international organisations can improve governance and understanding of existential risks. Preventing and preparing for the risks get comparatively less attention.


How can I help?

  1. Use the policy idea database whenever you’re engaging policy.
  2. Provide any suggestions: structure, format, sources to include next, evaluation of policy ideas.
  3. Promote it with your colleagues.
  4. Fund our future efforts to build a rich and powerful database.


Who are you again?

This work was led by Rumtin Sepasspour, a research affiliate with the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. I’m an independent researcher focused on the policy aspects of X/GCRs. Richard Kresina, Politics & Philosophy student at UCL and intern at Rondeli Foundation, did much of the heavy lifting of finding and inputting the policy ideas. And thanks for Avital Balwit for graciously allowing us to incorporate the policy database she was also developing and providing valuable guidance.

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This is incredibly useful foundational work for both the policy/advocacy side and the academic research side of existential and global catastrophic risk. Really valuable (and I imagine time-consuming) work to compile these two lists of: 

  • 338 academic articles and reports since 2016 related to existential and global catastrophic risk
  • 257 policy ideas (so far)

I can imagine these being useful for (amongst other things):

  • syllabi and reading lists for students and those spinning up in the field; 
  • academic research synthesising evidence on these different interventions and doing prioritisation (like GiveWell, J-PAL or Conservation Evidence); 
  • showing where the gaps in the field currently are; 
  • expert elicitations (like this and this); 
  • helping policy/advocacy groups prioritise and develop policy proposals (like CLTR’s Future Proof); and 
  • prompting people to start organisations/campaigns for particular interventions (like Charity Entrepreneurship’s database)

Well done – I hope you get more funding and volunteers to complete this work!

Thanks a lot, this looks like a great resource. This would add a lot of value I think: Properly evaluate existing policy ideas to identify and promote the set of high-quality ideas.

I would be really interesting to see how different experts within the EA community rank the ideas within the same category (e.g. AI) on certain criteria (e.g. impact, tractability, neglectedness, but there are probably better critera). Or enrich this data with the group that is probably most able to push for certain reforms (e.g. American civil servants, people that engage with party politics etc.).

This would make the database actionable to the EA community and thereby even more valuable.