I missed a session of my Precipice Reading Group, which meant I had to send in a summary of the week's reading to my facilitator. For some reason I wrote it as a poem. 

I do not claim that reading this is better than reading the actual chapter of the book. This poem is not comprehensive, it focuses on the two largest anthropogenic risks discussed in chapter 4. This poem is not endorsed by Toby Ord. Creative licenses were taken for the sake of rhyming. If you have a criticism of the accuracy please make sure to form your criticism in a rhyming stanza that could replace whatever you think is inaccurate. Enjoy!

So many times we've come close

To nuclear war

Tomorrow it may come

Knocking down your door

 

You might be lucky

To be killed right away

For a worse fate awaits

Those not in the way

 

As the soot rises

Into the sky

The chances of death

Become pretty high

 

A new ice age descends

And for five years we wait

Freezing and starving

For the darkness to abate

 

Then ten more years until

The sunlight fully allumes

Our little rock in space

And normal life resumes

 

While most of us will die

Or be very sad

This could be much worse

And very very bad

 

For Toby Ord thinks

It is an important distinction

That many deaths is bad

But better than extinction

 

So who will be left

To preserve the species?

New Zealand, of course

On their island of kiwis

 

They will peck at their seeds

While a new era harkens

With a bit of light left

As the rest of the world darkens

 

For the kiwis are neutral

And safe from attack

And live on an island 

Where the sky is less black.

 

 

If nuclear winter

Does not cause us to expire

We can look forward

To setting earth on fire

 

For if greenhouses runaway

and we continue to drill oil

Cascading effects

Might cause the oceans to boil

 

So the earth could become

Unfortunately for us

Uninhabitable to all life

Just like Venus

 

If that doesn't occur

A moist greenhouse effect might

Still kill us all off 

But leave the oceans in sight

 

While this is unlikely

According to scientific consensus

It would be so bad

We should still try to prevent this

 

Even if we stopped

Emitting entirely

More carbon lies dormant

Than we've emitted in history

 

It rests deep in the oceans

And in permafrost

So if current warming releases it

All hope is lost.

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:23 PM

Strong upvoted. I'm a huge fan of optimized combinations of words as a communication strategy, and have been for almost two years now. 

I think that converting key x-risk ideas into poetry has a ton of potential to produce communication value from the creation of galaxy-brained combinations of words (including solving many problems fundamental to the human mind and human groups, such as the one mentioned in Raemon's You Get About 5 Words). 

I recommend pioneering this idea and seeing how far you can run with it; I think the expected value makes it worth trying, even if there's a risk that it won't work out, or that you won't be the one credited for getting it going.  

(As a side note, I also think it's valuable to say at the beginning whether LLM generation was used and to what extent. It might seem obvious to you, and it probably actually is obvious that this is human-written to people with tons of experience with both poetry and LLMs, but LLM capabilities are always changing, and modern readers might need to feel reassured, especially for people new to poetry. Skill building for Cyborg poetry might be high EV too, and it might be important to be an early adopter so that EA will be the first to ride the wave when things get serious).

Thanks so much! I will consider a new career path in x-risk poetry :)

Good point. I didn't use LLMs to write this, in fact I was camping with no internet. 

I agree that LLMs are getting very good at this. I might feel sad to see them produce a better poem on Chapter 4, but this seems to be the direction we are headed. I will have a discussion with the AIs and see if we can write a better poem together.

I have spoken to Claude, and I gave them the relevant sections (Nuclear Weapons and Climate Change) of this summary of the Precipice. Claude has produced the following poem:

Three a.m. sirens blare, missiles incoming, 
Mere minutes until worlds end for millions.

False alarm — but thirty-two close calls in counting, 
Our luck nearly expired so many times then.

Carbon dioxide blankets the earth 
Once crucial for life, now disruptive change.


Four hundred twelve parts per million and rising


Warming accelerates, fuels feedback loops strange.

Uncertainty prevails despite best detections


Nine degrees? Twelve? Impacts we can’t predict.


Coastlines submerged, searing summers stretching

Mass extinctions that experts can’t contradict.

And while we’ll likely limp on short of annihilation, 
What shared trials await this civilization? 
Cautionary tales demand consideration — 
Action must match the stakes of our situation.


I don't quite understand the spacing, but I am impressed with Claude, as usual.