Matt Boyd

284 karmaJoined Nov 2018


Health, technology and catastrophic risk - New Zealand https://adaptresearchwriting.com/blog/


More recent works than those cited above: 

Famine after a range of nuclear winter scenarios (Xia et al 2022, Nature Food): https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-022-00573-0

Resilient foods to mitigate likely famines (Rivers et al 2022, preprint): https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-1446444/v1 

Likelihood of New Zealand collapse (Boyd & Wilson 2022, Risk Analysis): https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/risa.14072

New Zealand agricultural production post-nuclear winter (Wilson et al 2022, in press): https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.05.13.22275065v3

Optimising frost-resistant crops NZ nuclear winter (Wilson et al, preprint): https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-2670766/v1 

Project examining New Zealand's resilience to nuclear war (with focus on trade disruption):



Matt Boyd

Thanks for this great post mapping out the problem space! I'd add that trade disruption appears to be one of the most significant impacts of nuclear war, and plausibly amplifies the 'famine' aspect of nuclear winter significantly and a range of potential civilisation collapse risk factors, see my earlier post here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/7arEfmLBX2donjJyn/islands-nuclear-winter-and-trade-disruption-as-a-human Trade disruption disappears into the 'various risk factor mechanisms' category above, but I think it's worth more consideration. Here's a report on a workshop we recently ran on nuclear winter risk and New Zealand and how the impact of trade disruption pushes nuclear war into the very severe regions of a risk matrix: https://adaptresearchwriting.com/2023/02/20/workshop-on-nuclear-war-winter-nz-wellbeing-of-millions-and-1-trillion-plus-at-risk-strategic-resilience-must-become-bread-butter-nz-policy/ We now have a survey across a range of sectors in pilot to better understand the cascading impacts of such disruption on NZ's technological/industrial society (and how to avoid collapse). The full survey will be deployed soon. A lot of likely resilience measures against nuclear winter will have co-benefits across a range of other 'ordinary' and catastrophic risks, we hope to identify those with Delphi processes later this year. Project outline here: https://adaptresearchwriting.com/2022/09/13/introducing-the-aotearoa-nz-catastrophe-resilience-project/ I'd be interested to chat with anyone at Rethink Priorities who is continuing your work. 

Thanks. I guess this relates to your point about democratically acceptable decisions of governments. If a government is choosing to neglect something (eg because its probability is low, or because they have political motivations for doing so, vested interests etc), then they should only do so if they have information suggesting the electorate has/would authorize this. Otherwise it is an undemocratic decision. 

Matt Boyd

Thanks for this, great paper. 

  1. I 100% agree on the point that longtermism is not a necessary argument to achieve investment in existential/GCR risk reduction (and indeed might be a distraction). We have recently published on this (here). The paper focuses on the process of National Risk Assessment (NRA). We argue: "If one takes standard government cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) as the starting point, especially the domain of healthcare where cost-per-quality-adjusted-life-year is typically the currency and discount rates of around 3% are typically used, then existential risk just looks like a limiting case for CEA. The population at risk is simply all those alive at the time and the clear salience of existential risks emerges in simple consequence calculations (such as those demonstrated above) coupled with standard cost-utility metrics.” (look for my post on this paper in the Forum, as I'm about to publish it (next 1-2 days probably >> update, here's the link). 
  2. We then turn to the question of why governments don't see things this way, and note: "The real question then becomes, why do government NRAs and CEAs not account for the probabilities and impacts of GCRs and existential risk? Possibilities include unfamiliarity (i.e., a knowledge gap, to be solved by wider consultation), apparent intractability (i.e., a lack of policy response options, to be solved by wider consultation), conscious neglect (due to low probability or for political purposes, but surely to be authorized by wider consultation), or seeing some issues as global rather than national (typically requiring a global coordination mechanism). Most paths point toward the need for informed public and stakeholder dialog."
  3. We then ask how wider consultation might be effected and propose a two-way communication approach between governments and experts/populations. Noting that NRAs are based on somewhat arbitrary assumptions we propose letting the public explore alternative outcomes of the NRA process by altering assumptions. This is where the AWTP line of your argument could be included, as discount rate and time-horizon are two of the assumptions that could be explored, and seeing the magnitude of benefit/cost people might be persuaded that a little WTP for altruistic outcomes might be good. 
  4. Overall, CEA/CBA is a good approach, and NRA is a method by which it could be formalized in government processes around catastrophe (provided current shortcomings where NRA is often not connected to a capabilities analysis (solutions) are overcome). 
  5. Refuges: sometimes the interests in securing a refuge and protecting the whole population align, as in the case of island refuges, where investment in the refuge is also protecting the entire currently alive population. So refuges may not always be left of the blue box in your figure. 

We transform ourselves all the time, and very powerfully. The entire field of cognitive niche construction is dedicated to studying how the things we create/build/invent/change lead to developmental scaffolding and new cognitive abilities that previous generations did not have. Language, writing systems, education systems, religions, syllabi, external cognitive supports, all these things have powerfully transformed human thought and intelligence. And once they were underway the take-off speed of this evolutionary transformation was very rapid (compared to the 200,000 years spent being anatomically modern with comparatively little change). 

Yes, feel free to translate whatever you like. And ahh, I'm a bit selective about what I post on here. It's just they way I've decided to curate things. I don't mind people linking to it though. 

Matt Boyd

The GCRMA was included in the the final National Defense Authorization Act for FY2023 which became law in December 2022. The text is altered a little from the draft version, but can be read here: https://www.congress.gov/117/bills/hr7776/BILLS-117hr7776enr.pdf#page=1290  I have blogged about it here: https://adaptresearchwriting.com/2023/02/05/us-takes-action-to-avert-human-existential-catastrophe-the-global-catastrophic-risk-management-act-2022/ Not sure why there isn't much discussion about it. It seems like something every country could replicate, and then the Chairs of each nation's risk assessment committee could meet to coordinate. 

Matt Boyd

I generally think that all these kinds of cost-effectiveness analyses around x-risk are wildly speculative and susceptible to small changes in assumptions. There is literally no evidence that the $250b would change bio-x-risk by 1% rather than, say, 0.1% or 10%, or even 50%, depending on how it was targeted and what developments it led to. On the other hand if you do successfully reduce the x-risk by, say, 1%, then you most likely also reduce the risk/consequences of all kinds of other non-existential bio-risks, again depending on the actual investment/discoveries/developments, so the benefit of all the 'ordinary' cases must be factored in. I think that the most compelling argument for investing in x-risk prevention without consideration of future generations, is simply to calculate the deaths in expectation (eg using Ord's probabilities if you are comfortable with them) and to rank risks accordingly. It turns out that at 10% this century, AI risks 8 million lives per annum (obviously less than that early century, perhaps greater late century) and bio-risk is 2.7 million lives per annum in expectation (ie 8 billion  x 0.0333 x 0.01). This can be compared to ALL natural disasters which Our World in Data reports kill ~60,000 people per annum. So there is an argument that we should focus on x-risk to at least some degree purely on expected consequences. I think its basically impossible to get robust cost-effectiveness estimates for this kind of work, and most of the estimates I've seen appear implausibly cost-effective. Things never go as well as you though they would in risk mitigation activities. 

Matt Boyd

Hi Christian, thanks for your thoughts. You're right to note that islands like Iceland, Indonesia, NZ, etc are also where there's a lot of volcanic activity. Mike Cassidy and Lara Mani briefly summarize potential ash damage in their post on supervolcanoes here (see the table on effects). Basically there could be severe impacts on agriculture and infrastructure. I think the main lesson is that at least two prepared islands would be good. In different hemispheres. That first line of redundancy is probably the most important (also in case one is a target in nuclear war, eg NZ is probably susceptible to an EMP directed at Australia). 

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