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With permission, we're sharing the beginning of Toby Ord's The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity.

The below text is a brief excerpt. You can read the rest here, though you'll need to get the book to read the footnotes.


If all goes well, human history is just beginning. 

Humanity is about two hundred thousand years old. But the Earth will remain habitable for hundreds of millions more—enough time for millions of future generations; enough to end disease, poverty and injustice forever; enough to create heights of flourishing unimaginable today. And if we could learn to reach out further into the cosmos, we could have more time yet: trillions of years, to explore billions of worlds. Such a lifespan places present-day humanity in its earliest infancy. A vast and extraordinary adulthood awaits.

Our view of this potential is easily obscured. The latest scandal draws our outrage; the latest tragedy, our sympathy. Time and space shrink. We forget the scale of the story in which we take part. But there are moments when we remember—when our vision shifts, and our priorities realign. We see a species precariously close to self-destruction, with a future of immense promise hanging in the balance. And which way that balance tips becomes our most urgent public concern.

This book argues that safeguarding humanity’s future is the defining challenge of our time. For we stand at a crucial moment in the history of our species. Fueled by technological progress, our power has grown so great that for the first time in humanity’s long history, we have the capacity to destroy ourselves—severing our entire future and everything we could become.

Yet humanity’s wisdom has grown only falteringly, if at all, and lags dangerously behind. Humanity lacks the maturity, coordination and foresight necessary to avoid making mistakes from which we could never recover. As the gap between our power and our wisdom grows, our future is subject to an ever-increasing level of risk. This situation is unsustainable. So over the next few centuries, humanity will be tested: it will either act decisively to protect itself and its long-term potential, or, in all likelihood, this will be lost forever.

To survive these challenges and secure our future, we must act now: managing the risks of today, averting those of tomorrow, and becoming the kind of society that will never pose such risks to itself again.

Read the rest of the chapter




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