[Linkpost] Don't Look Up - a Netflix comedy about asteroid risk and realistic societal reactions (Dec. 24th)

by Linch1 min read18th Nov 202112 comments

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AsteroidsEffective altruism art and fictionEffective altruism in the mediaExistential risk
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Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. 

Judging from the trailer alone, I don't think I've seen a better fictional movie about xrisks to date. 

The movie is scheduled to be released in theatres on December 10, 2021, prior to streaming on Netflix on December 24, 2021 (H/T Eliezer Yudkowsky).

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A random idea on how this film could end by explicitly promoting existential risk awareness:

  • At the end of the film, imagine the comet impacts Earth and humanity goes extinct.
  • The audience is surprised that the movie actually ends in extinction and the heroes don't win.
  • The otherwise-comedic film ends on this serious, sad note.
  • The screen goes dark, and the following text appears:
  • "Experts estimate the chance of extinction via asteroid or comet impact within the next 100 years at only ~1 in 1,000,000."
  • "However, experts believe the chance of extinction from other causes is much higher."
  • The film cuts from black to Toby Ord in his office, reading the caption of Table 6.1 from his book The Precipice: "My best estimates for the chance of an existential catastrophe from each of these sources occurring at some point in the next 100 years..."
  • The film cuts to the table itself as he begins reading the risks aloud:
  • "If you're wondering if this is a joke, it's not. The risks really do seem to be this high."
  • Cut to credits.

Toby Ord reading a table out loud sounds like a bridge too far, but it's not uncommon for movies to end with a link to some relevant real-world resource. If I knew the people behind this movie (I don't) and thought there might be time to change it (no idea), I'd probably advocate for something like this (many ways to improve the wording, I'm sure) before the credits:

This film isn't based on a true story. But it may become one.

Learn about risks to humanity, and how you can help: 

theprecipice.com

(More realistically, if I did have an in, I'd ask people like Toby Ord what message they'd want millions of random viewers to see.)

How much would it cost to influence the film to make this happen?

I don't know; I doubt it's a problem where throwing money at it is the right answer. In any case, it's unclear to me whether doing this would actually be positive value or not. I imagine it would be quite controversial, even among EAs who are into longtermism. I just shared the idea because I thought it was interesting, not because I necessarily thought it was good.

Yeah, I agree that money is not the bottleneck. I think the strongest bottleneck is decision quality on whether this is a good idea, and a secondary bottleneck is whether our Hollywood contacts are good enough to make this happen conditional upon us believing it's actually a good idea.

Do you have a story for why this could be a bad idea?

Having popular presentations of our ideas in an unnuanced form may either a) give the impression that our ideas are bad/silly/unnuanced or b) low-status, akin to how a lot of AI safety efforts are/were rounded off as "Terminator" scenarios.

Any predictions on whether the film will seem to be positive from an existential-risk-reducing perspective or not?

Or perhaps more constructively, what possible features of the film could make it seem positive from an xrisk perspective? Which possible features could make it seem negative?

Possible Positives:

  • If it makes viewers viscerally feel the importance of preventing extinction
  • If it reminds viewers of the importance of preventing extinction, such that they are more likely to take other action to reduce extinction risks in the future
  • If it educates people on coordination problems or other obstacles that humanity actually faces (or may actually face) when trying to deal with extinction risks

Possible Negatives:

  • If it leaves viewers with a false impression of the absolute risk of extinction due to asteroids
  • If it leaves viewers with a false impression of the relative risk of extinction due to asteroids (relative to other extinction risks)
  • If it reduces the chance that other (positive) Hollywood films about extinction risk get made in the coming years

It might give people language to describe their experiences. Like "when I watched this movie, it was just like how it was before Covid - people were either really scared or just laughed it off! I see people doing the same thing when it comes to [other risk]"

I'll be looking forward to see if/how they deal with the aftermath of the impact, and specifically with the agricultural collapse that would ensue which is probably the most severe consequence of an asteroid/comet impact.

I think there could be some EA press written around this. I hope Toby Ord gets at least one interview out of it.