I am happy to release the workshop report from the "Ramifications of Experimentation into SRM In Light of its Impact on Existential, Negative-state and Civilisational ENdangering Risk" (RESILIENCER) Workshop in Utrecht in September 2022.
The workshop lasted a day, and included participants chiefly from the SRM research community (and a lesser extent the XRisk community) from across Europe, with researchers from 13 different institutions in attendence. This was the first workshop to discuss this question of how SRM (solar radiation modification) research interacts with existential and global catastrophic risk, and one of the first major discussions about this issue in the SRM community at large.
The approach taken for this workshop, and for the RESILIENCER project in general, has been somewhat different to the approaches typical in a lot of XRisk discourse. The aim of the workshop was chiefly to get researchers in the SRM research community to engage with issues around GCR and XRisk, to identify relevant areas of collaboration, and to create fruitful and critical discussion of important concepts. The idea behind this was partially that a very small number of people had previously engaged with SRM and XRisk, with essentially only 1 of those people who it might at all be reasonable to say was in the 'SRM research community', so getting broader input would allow a more fruitful direction of research, as well as open up more option space for investigation into this area. Moreover, the hope was also to get XRisk as a concern understood by people in the SRM community, so it becomes a part of consideration around risk from SRM.
If your interested in the discussions, I recommend you read the workshop report with lays these discussions out in a lot of detail. The sessions were as follows:
- What are we even doing and are we sliding down a slope? : This discussed definitions of SRM research and concepts around slippery slope from research to deployment of the technology. It also examined a framework I had developed for categorising research of SRM (developed during the CERI Summer Research Fellowship)
- What would convince me I am wrong? : This involved people discussing their views on SRM in general, and then SRM and its relationship to XRisk specifically, and then discussing what would convince them they were wrong, and trying to identify key cruxes in the discussions
- Scenario generation: Discussed ideas for different scenarios, with particular reference for how SRM interacts with GCR and XRisk. For those interested in the interaction of SRM deployment and XRisk, this session will perhaps be the most useful, and certainly provides a lot of ideas that may inform fruitful further scenario exercises.
- Conclusions and next steps: This included some interesting discussion of the overlapping interests between those who care about XRisk and other considerations around SRM, laying the groundworks for future coalitions, so may be interesting as a case study of a different approach to XRisk research.
The workshop seemed surprisingly successful with a large amount of excitement from attendees about further action. Projects I have now started working on due to interest from people outside of XRisk during the workshop:
- The interaction of SRM and Earth System Tipping Points, which is informing a paper and will also now lead to a chapter in a report on Tipping Points as well
- The utility of different risk principles, particularly systemic risk, in assessing existential risk
- How to develop multi-risk assessment (essentially a more expansive variation of risk-risk assessment) for unquantifiable catastrophic risk (which includes existential risk)
- A blog series on the relation between SRM research and deployment
- Plausibly work around how to develop better social control; over technology development to reduce risk
Moreover, the workshop directly informed a large amount of the work the RESILIENCER Project is carrying out this year, most keenly the ParEvo exercise and the accompanying workshop that I have run alongside SJ Beard and Rick Davies, as well as in the development of my framework around how research and deployment related.
Some interesting lessons for XRisk work more generally:
- Worse-case scenario/risks at the heavy tail seemed to be more appealing than framing of GCR and XRisk
- Focus on areas of common concern (common enemies, useful shared methods etc) seemed very fruitful
- Interestingly those who were more in favour of SRM worried about XRisk concerns suppressing it and its research, those more worried about SRM seemed more worried about XRisk being an excuse to ignore other concerns around SRM and speed up its development
- We brought together a very broad range of academics from all sides of the discussion, a number of whom are deeply ethically and intellectually opposed to one another, who often don't engage collaboratively like this. It seems however that the workshop worked at generating productive and fruitful conversations in ways other fora often don't
I would be really happy to answer questions about this workshop from people who were interested in the process, and if you are interested in the discussion, I strongly recommend reading the report.
I would like to in particular thank Goodwin Gibbins who mentored me whilst preparing for the workshop during the CERI Summer Research Fellowship, and SJ Beard and Claudia Wieners for also helping in the organisation of the workshop.