Kurzgesagt just released their second video on longtermism as a partnership with Will MacAskill and on the day What We Owe The Future releases! 

My initial thoughts:

  • I liked it more than the previous video for its focus on concrete risks and their implications.
  • I didn't like how it seemed more focused on catastrophic risks than existential risks—it seemed to present nuclear war and climate change at the same level of threat of biorisks, and it made no mention of AI until the book plug at the end.
  • It seemed way more optimistic about existential risks than I am (perhaps this is related to the previous point)? My main takeaway was something like "oh there might be risks to our global society, but we'll definitely make it back." I'm unsure how much to trade off feel-good messages that bring greater general support against perhaps more pessimistic messages that could galvanize more people into working on things.
  • Dunno how to feel about the big "Effective Altruism" banner at the end (but cartoon Will MacAskill is cute), I guess "soon" in EA will likely get more attention soon refers to now!
  • As usual, the animation and sounds are very appealing and satisfying.
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The top comments seem mostly critical at the moment. This video was posted today and already has 1.2 million views (>100x the number of active EAs as of 2019!), so it might be useful to examine the reception from this video's general audience. Some of the critique so far:

  • The video is titled "Is Civilization on the Brink of Collapse?", but it doesn't directly answer this question and instead focuses on the consequences of civilizational collapse and a road to recovery.
  • Comparisions are mainly made to ancient civilizations. They don't bear much resemblance to modern society, which is more technologically developed and thus robust to risks such as pandemics.
  • Skepticism towards AI being an x-risk (AGI won't be developed for a very long time and is difficult to build)
  • The video seems like a sponsored PR effort advancing WWOTF's agenda.
  • The video was poorly researched:
    • The Bronze Age collapse was not mentioned, despite being a crucial civilizational collapse which regressed scientific and technological development.
    • The definition of "civilization" at the beginning of the video excludes societies which didn't have hierarchies or abolished them.
  • Omission of some important extinction scenarios, like supervolcano eruptions or asteroid impacts.
  • The video is Eurocentric and doesn't mention other cultures or empires.
  • The video is too optimistic/futuristic; it offers scientifically possible but implausible solutions for rebuilding civilization, and doesn't demonstrate how to overcome social and political hurdles.
  • This video and "The Last Human – A Glimpse Into The Far Future" place too much emphasis on hypothetical future people, which distracts from suffering in the present.

What is the main idea this video is trying to convey? Based on the title and description, I assumed the goal would be to introduce key ideas of longtermism/x-risks and promote WWOTF. It did the latter, but I don't think the video presents longtermist ideas in a very clear way. 

Earlier today, I watched the video with a couple of friends who have never heard about longtermism and x-risks before. It did not do a good job at sparking discussion. When talking about the video, the main takeaways were something like:

  •  civilizations have collapsed before
  •  if it happens again, we will most likely recover
  • to make sure that we actually recover, we should stop burning coal. However, everyone was already convinced that we should stop burning coal because of climate change arguments.
  • my friends were mostly confused about what longtermism is and why it is related to EA

Afterwards, I suggested reading Will's guest essay in the NYT. From my impression, that article got my friends a lot more excited about reading WWOTF and seemed to resolve the confusion about longtermism and EA. In the future, I will definitely send the NYT article to people as an introduction to longtermism or this WWOTF book review by Ali Abdaal for people who just really prefer watching videos.

There are a lot of highly upvoted comments saying the video needs a title change and frankly I agree the current title is not accurate for what the video discusses. I'm a little surprised and disappointed Kurzgesagt hasn't changed the title in response to the feedback. Does anyone know why they haven't changed it?

They just added to it so it's now "Is Civilization on the Brink of Collapse? And Could We Recover?" but it still seems to not answer the first question.

I'm still seeing "Is Civilization on the Brink of Collapse?" so looks like they may have changed it back.

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