Existential risk

An existential risk is a risk that threatens the destruction of humanity’s longterm potential (Bostrom 2016; Ord 2020a). Existential risks might include natural risks such as those posed by asteroids or super-volcanoes as well as novel technological risks like mishaps resulting from synthetic biology or artificial intelligence. Experts remain uncertain about the absolute probability of existential risks.

Some existential risks would cause humanity to become extinct if they came about—these are called “extinction risks”. Other risks might stop humanity from flourishing in other ways—a brutal and unending totalitarian regime might permanently damage what is valuable about humanity without causing actual extinction. Alternatively, a smaller scale disaster could undermine industrial civilization, leaving humanity stuck at a significantly smaller population and unable ever to recover technologically.

Philosophers have argued that existential risks are especially important because the long-run future of humanity matters a great deal (Bostrom 2013). Many believe that there is no intrinsic moral difference between the importance of a life today and one in a hundred years. However, there may be many more people in the future than there are now. They argue, therefore, that it is overwhelmingly important to preserve that potential, even if the risks to humanity are small....

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