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Risks from malevolent actors

Parent Topic: Existential risk

Risks from malevolent actors are risks posed by individuals with narcissistic, psychopathic, sadistic, or other socially harmful personality traits.[1]

Malevolence as a risk

Malevolence may be operationalized as the general factor that accounts for the observed correlations between negative personality traits—the so-called "dark core" of personality.[2] People who score unusually highly on this general factor could pose serious risks for the long-term future of humanity, including existential risks and risks of astronomical suffering. Such people appear to be more likely than average to attain positions of power in government and industry. And conditional on gaining this influence, they are also much more likely to cause major harm.

The types of risks malevolent actors in power might pose vary greatly. They include the spread of extremist and dangerous ideologies, the escalation of great power conflicts, the formation of totalitarian regimes, and the undermining of public institutions and global coordination. Since malevolence has a broadly negative influence, it is probably best regarded as a risk factor rather than as a distinct kind of risk.

Interventions against malevolent actors

In a pioneering essay on the topic, David Althaus and Tobias Baumann have proposed a number of interventions aimed at reducing risks from malevolent actors.[1] Their proposals include advancing the science of malevolence—by aligning constructs with the morally relevant forms of malevolence and by developing manipulation-proof measures of it—, and promoting political reforms to make the rise of malevolent actors less probable. Because malevolent actors likely pose the gravest risks in scenarios where they gain access to transformative technology, the authors also propose shaping the development of those technologies so as to mitigate the harms posed by these individuals, such as by reducing the presence of malevolent traits in AI training environments and by ensuring that candidates for whole brain emulation score low on measures of malevolence.


80,000 Hours rates risks from malevolent actors a "potential highest priority area": an issue that, if more thoroughly examined, could rank as a top global challenge.[3]


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