“So if we drop the baton, succumbing to an existential catastrophe, we would fail our ancestors in a multitude of ways. We would fail to achieve the dreams they hoped for; we would betray the trust they placed in us, their heirs; and we would fail in any duty we had to pay forward the work they did for us. To neglect existential risk might thus be to wrong not only the people of the future, but the people of the past.”

- Toby Ord

In this chapter we’ll focus on existential risks: risks that threaten the destruction of humanity’s long-term potential.

We’ll examine why existential risks might be a moral priority, and explore why they are so neglected by society. We’ll also look into one of the major risks that we might face: a human-made pandemic, worse than COVID-19.

We’ll also introduce the following concepts:

  • The importance, neglectedness, tractability framework: The most important problems generally affect a lot of people, are relatively under-invested in, and can be meaningfully improved with a small amount of work.
  • Thinking on the margin: If you're donating $1, you should give that extra $1 to the intervention that can most cost-effectively improve the world. There are many great initiatives with a very high average impact per dollar that will have a low marginal impact because they can't get the same efficiency at scale (they display "diminishing marginal returns").
  • Crucial considerations: It can be extremely hard to figure out whether some action helps your goal or causes harm, particularly if you’re trying to influence complex social systems or the long-term. This is part of why it can make sense to do a lot of analysis of interventions you’re considering.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:05 PM

Hi! I found a typo. I'll delete the comment once it gets fixed:

"and explore they are so neglected by society".



Fixed, thanks!

Hmm, to my surprise, I just found out that I can't delete the comment, but only "retract" it (which amounts to striking the text through). Two questions:

  1. Did I miss a way of really deleting the comment?
  2. If there is no way to delete it, is there a better way to report the typos than pointing them out in the comments section?
  1. I'm not sure, but I'll ask someone who knows to respond. (Though looks like you managed to delete a comment below, so maybe you figured it out?)
  2. I think another thing you could do is message the author (go to their profile page and then click "message"), but I think that commenting is also fine. Pointing out typos is an act of community service, so I think that people will be OK with you leaving the comment up!

Hi! For number 1: To delete a comment, simply click the three dots on the upper right side of the comment box, and you'll see an option to delete.

If you still can't see that option, please send us a screenshot of the options you see, and we'll have our tech team investigate further. Hope this helps!

I think you can't delete a comment once it has been replied to (you can edit it and remove all its contents though)

But you can ask mods to delete it

I think Lorenzo is right: when there is a reply to a comment, I can't delete the comment. Here's a screenshot of what I see (it's the same thing when I click on the three dots in this comment I made (which starts with the words "Hmm, to my surprise")):

Anyway, that's no big deal! I'll leave the comment up. Thank you folks for your kindness!

[comment deleted]6mo10