The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity is a book by Toby Ord. It was published on 5 March 2020.

The book is an extended argument for the conclusion that reducing existential risk is the fundamental challenge of our time. The book's title refers to a period of heightened risk which humanity must navigate safely to realize its long-term potential. Ord dates the beginning of this period to the Trinity test, when the first atomic bomb was detonated.

Connection to longtermism

The Precipice characterizes longtermism as an ethic "especially concerned with the impacts of our actions upon the longterm future", and on which "our most important role may be how we shape—or fail to shape—that story."[1] This characterization may suggest that the book's central thesis restates the longtermist thesis. However, while the two are related, they are different. First, according to Ord the case for reducing existential risk does not presuppose longtermism, and can be made even if that view is rejected. As he writes, "[o]ne doesn’t have to approach existential risk from [a longtermist] direction" since "there is already a strong moral case just from the immediate effects."[1] Second, while reducing existential risk is an obvious path to influencing the long-term future, there may be other ways of exerting such a lasting influence.

Further reading

Aird, Michael (2020) List of things I’ve written or may write that are relevant to The Precipice, Effective Altruism Forum, April 6.

Alexander, Scott (2020) Book Review: The Precipice, Slate Star Codex, April 2.

Ord, Toby (2020) The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Wiblin, Robert, Arden Koehler & Keiran Harris (2020) Toby Ord on The Precipice and humanity’s potential futures, 80,000 Hours, March 7.

The Precipice. Official website.

existential risk | existential security | long-term future | Toby Ord | Trinity | What We Owe the Future

  1. ^

    Ord, Toby (2020) The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, p. 46.