W-Risk and the Technological Wavefront (Nell Watson)

by Aaron Gertler 11th Nov 20181 comment


This is a linkpost for Nell Watson's "The Technological Wavefront".

Brief summary:

  • Many ancient peoples made impressive discoveries (in some cases, better than what we have now) long before they discovered modern science.
  • Society generally becomes more advanced and complex over time as long as resources allow for this growth; this is the "technological wavefront".
  • However, if we hit a resource bottleneck, the wave will break, and we will be forced to step back down the complexity ladder, losing access to some of our present technology.
  • "It is our momentum as a species that keeps the light of enlightenment burning steadily." If we lose momentum and "step down", we may never recover the technology we lose, since much of our present knowledge exists either in memory or on media we won't be able to access. This risk of permanent loss is W-risk ("wavefront risk").
  • "The greatest existential risk to the meaningfulness and excellence of the future of humanity may be something surprisingly benign, not to be experienced as a bang, but rather as a long drawn-out whimper."
  • W-risk seems more likely to the author than X-risk, so she recommends guarding against it by stockpiling documentation from multiple generations of tech and finding ways to rebuild our energy supply without much fossil fuel.