Totalitarianism is an all-embracing system of government that exercises virtually complete control over every aspect of individual life. Robust totalitarianism may be defined as a type of totalitarianism particularly effective at enforcing its ideological vision and preventing internal and external threats to its authority.
Benito Mussolini famously characterized totalitarianism as "all within the state, nothing outside the state, none against the state." Contemporary scholars have listed several distinctive features of totalitarian regimes. These features include a radical official ideology, usually exclusionary and future-oriented; a single party, typically led by one man; a monopoly of the means of both persuasion and coercion; a centrally planned economy, in which most professional activities are part of the state; and extreme polarization and widespread use of terror in all spheres of life. Totalitarian regimes are estimated to have been responsible for the deaths of over 125 million people in the 20th century, mostly in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and communist China. To this tragic loss of life needs to be added the major loss of quality of life experienced by those living under such regimes.
Because of its scale, the threat of robust totalitarianism constitutes a global catastrophic risk. If the totalitarian regime has the potential to be both global and stable, it could also constitute an existential risk—specifically a risk of an unrecoverable dystopia.
Advances in artificial intelligence in areas such as lie detection, social persuasion and deception, autonomous weapons, and ubiquitous surveillance could entrench existing totalitarian regimes. These developments may also cause democracies to slide into totalitarianism. On the other hand, AI could conceivably destabilize totalitarian systems or protect against their emergence. To this date, no detailed analysis exists of the potential impact of artificial intelligence on the risk of robust totalitarianism. The literature on robust totalitarianism in general is itself very small.
80,000 Hours rates risks of robust totalitarianism a "potential highest priority area": an issue that, if more thoroughly examined, could rank as a top global challenge....