A warning shot is a global catastrophe that increases awareness and concern about similar future risks and thus reduces the probability of an existential catastrophe.


The expression warning sign is sometimes used to describe any event that increases awareness and concern about a particular category of existential risk, regardless of whether the event itself constitutes a global catastrophe. For example, plausible candidates for an AI warning sign include not only a catastrophic failure by an AI system but also public outreach campaigns or the publication of an exceptionally persuasive book on AI safety.[1] 

A related notion is that of a fire alarm, a warning sign that creates common knowledge that some technology—typically artificial general intelligence—actually poses an existential risk.[2]

Note, however, that both "warning shot" and "fire alarm" are sometimes used as synonyms for "warning sign".[3][4]

Further reading

Beckstead, Nick (2015) The long-term significance of reducing global catastrophic risks, Open Philanthropy, August 13.

Carlsmith, Joseph (2021) Is power-seeking AI an existential risk?, Open Philanthropy, April, section 6.2.

global catastrophic risk

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    Grace, Katja (2021) Beyond fire alarms: freeing the groupstruck, AI Impacts, September 26.

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    Kokotajlo, Daniel (2020) What are the most plausible ‘AI Safety warning shot’ scenarios?, AI Alignment Forum, March 26.

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    McCluskey, Peter (2021) AI fire alarm scenarios, Bayesian Investor, December 23.