Anthropogenic existential risks

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New technologies have played a huge part in the massive growth in human flourishing over the past centuries. However, they also pose some serious risks. Nuclear weapons, for example, may have created the potential for wars that result in human extinction. Other technologies may pose similar risks in the future, such as synthetic biology (see global catastrophic biological risk) and artificial intelligence, as well as risks from fundamental physics research and unknown risks.

That our species has so far survived both natural and anthropogenic risks puts an upper bound on how high these risks can be. But humanity has been exposed to natural risks throughout the entirety of its history, whereas anthropogenic risks have existed for less than aemerged only in the last century. This difference between these two types of risks implies that their respective upper bounds are also very different. Specifically, this consideration is generally believed to warrant the conclusion that anthropogenic risks are significantly higher than natural risks (Bostrom 2004; Snyder-Beattie, Ord & Bonsall 2019; Aschenbrenner 2020). According to Toby Ord, "we face about a thousand times more anthropogenic risk over the next century than natural risk." (Ord 2020: 87)

That our species has so far survived both natural and anthropogenic risks puts an upper bound on how high these risks can be. But humanity has been exposed to natural risks throughout the entirety of its history, whereas anthropogenic risks have existed for less than a century. This difference between these two types of risks implies that their respective upper bounds are also very different. Specifically, this consideration is generally believed to warrant the conclusion that anthropogenic risks are significantly higher than natural risks (Bostrom 2004; Snyder-Beattie, Ord & Bonsall 2019; Aschenbrenner 2020). According to Toby Ord, "we face about a thousand times more anthropogenic risk over the next century than natural risk." (Ord 2020)2020: 87)

BecauseThat our species has so far survived both natural and anthropogenic risks puts an upper bound on how high these risks originatecan be. But humanity has been exposed to natural risks throughout the entirety of its history, whereas anthropogenic risks have existed for less than a century. This difference between these two types of risks implies that their respective upper bounds are also very different. Specifically, this consideration is generally believed to warrant the conclusion that anthropogenic risks are significantly higher than natural risks (Bostrom 2004; Snyder-Beattie, Ord & Bonsall 2019; Aschenbrenner 2020). According to Toby Ord, "we face about a thousand times more anthropogenic risk over the next century than natural risk." (Ord 2020)

Bibliography

Aschenbrenner, Leopold (2020) Securing posterity, Works in poorly understood and unprecedented technologies, there is essentially a large degree of speculation in their investigation. For this reason, it is useful to balance discussions of unprecedented technological risk, considering both the visible benefits and potential risks of research.progress, October 19.

Further reading

Bostrom, Nick (2004) The future of human evolution, in Charles Tandy (ed.) Death and anti-death: two hundred years after Kant, fifty years after Turing, vol. 2, Palo Alto, California: Ria University Press, pp. 339–371.

Ord, Toby (2020) The precipice: existential risk and the future of humanity, London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Snyder-Beattie, Andrew, Toby Ord & Michael B. Bonsall (2019) An upper bound for the background rate of human extinction, Scientific reports, vol. 9, pp. 1–9.

New technologies have played a huge part in the massive growth in human flourishing over the past centuries. However, they also pose some serious risks. Nuclear weapons, for example, may have created the potential for wars that result in human extinction. Other technologies may pose similar risks in the future, such as synthetic biology and artificial intelligence, as well as risks from fundamental physics research and unknown risks.

Because these risks originate in poorly understood and unprecedented technologies, there is essentially a large degree of speculation in their investigation. For this reason, it is useful to balance discussions of unprecedented technological risk, considering both the visible benefits and potential risks of research.

Further reading

Beckstead, Nick et al. 2014. Unprecedented technological risks.

Anthropogenic existential risks are existential risks arising from intentional or accidental human activity rather than underlying natural processes.

Anthropogenic existential risks are existential risks arising from human activity rather than underlying natural processes.