Global Catastrophic Risks

Technoapocalypticism

In Radical Evolution Joel Garreau's Hell scenario is centred on the Luddite apocalypticism of the techno-millennial apostate, Bill Joy, former chief scientist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems. In the late 1990s Joy began to believe that genetics, robotics, and nanotechnology posed novel apocalyptic risks to human life. These technologies, he argued, posed a different kind of threat because they could self-replicate guns do not breed and shoot people on their own, but a rogue bioweapon could....

Confirmation bias

In 1960, Peter Wason conducted a now-classic experiment that became known as the '2-4-6' task. (Wason 1960.) Subjects had to discover a rule, known to the experimenter but not to the subject - analogous to scientific research. Subjects wrote three numbers, such as '2-4-6' or '10-12-14', on cards, and the experimenter said whether the triplet fit the rule or did not fit the rule. Initially subjects were given the triplet 2-4-6, and told that this triplet fit the rule. Subjects could continue...

Martin J Rees Foreword

Wells gave a lecture at the Royal Institution in London, highlighting the risk of global disaster 'It is impossible', proclaimed the young Wells, 'to show why certain things should not utterly destroy and end the human race and story why night should not presently come down and make all our dreams and efforts vain. something from space, or pestilence, or some great disease of the atmosphere, some trailing cometary poison, some great emanation of vapour from the interior of the...

Nick Bostrom and Milan M Cirkovic Introduction

The term 'global catastrophic risk' lacks a sharp definition. We use it to refer, loosely, to a risk that might have the potential to inflict serious damage to human well-being on a global scale. On this definition, an immensely diverse collection of events could constitute global catastrophes potential candidates range from volcanic eruptions to pandemic infections, nuclear accidents to worldwide tyrannies, out-of-control scientific experiments to climatic changes, and cosmic hazards to...

Scope neglect

2,000 20,000 200,000 migrating birds die each year by drowning in uncovered oil ponds, which the birds mistake for bodies of water. These deaths could be prevented by covering the oil ponds with nets. How much money would you be willing to pay to provide the needed nets Three groups of subjects considered three versions of the above question, asking them how high a tax increase they would accept to save 2,000, 20,000, or 200,000 birds. The response - known as Stated Willingness-To-Pay, or SWTP...

Conclusion

Why should there be an organized body of thinking about existential risks Falling asteroids are not like engineered superviruses physics disasters are not like nanotechnological wars. Why not consider each of these problems separately If someone proposes a physics disaster, then the committee convened to analyze the problem must obviously include physicists. But someone on that committee should also know how terribly dangerous it is to have an answer in your mind before you finish asking the...

Risks from unintended consequences

We have already encountered climate change - in the form of sudden global cooling -as a destructive modality of super-eruptions and large impacts (as well as possible consequence of large-scale nuclear war, to be discussed later). Yet it is the risk of gradual global warming brought about by greenhouse gas emissions that has most strongly captured the public imagination in recent years. Anthropogenic climate change has become the poster child of global threats. Global warming commandeers a...

Fig World Economic Forum The core global risks likelihood with severif by economic loss

Aggregate Exceedance Probability Curve

If only all risks were like this, but they are not. There may be no decent claims history, the conditions in the future may not resemble the past. There could be a possibility of a few rare but extremely lrge losses, it may not be possible to reduce volatility by writing a lot of the same type of risk, and it may not be possible to diversify the risk portfolio. One or more of these circumstances can apply. For example, lines of business where we have low claims experience and doubt over the...

Fermis paradox

Fermi's paradox also known as the 'Great Silence' problem consists in the tension between 1 naturalistic origin of life and intelligence, as well as astrophysical sizes and ages of our Galaxy and 2 the absence of extraterrestrials in the Solar System, or any other traces of extraterrestrial intelligent activities in the universe.10 In particular, the lack of macroengineering or astroengineering activities observable from interstellar distances tells us that it is not the case that life evolves...

Pastfuture asymmetry and risk inferences

One important selection effect in the study of GCRs arises from the breakdown of the temporal symmetry between past and future catastrophes when our existence at the present epoch and the necessary conditions for it are taken into account. In particular, some of the predictions derived from past records are unreliable due to observation selection, thus introducing an essential qualification to the general and often uncritically accepted gradualist principle that 'the past is a key to the...

Bystander apathy

My last bias comes, not from the field of heuristics and biases, but from the field of social psychology. A now-famous series of experiments by Latane and Darley 1969 uncovered the bystander effect, also known as bystander apathy, in which larger numbers of people are less likely to act in emergencies - not only individually, but collectively. 75 of subjects alone in a room, noticing smoke entering from under a door, left to report it. When three naive subjects were present, the smoke was...

Positive or negative teleologies utopianism and apocalypticism

Utopianism and apocalypticism are defined here as the millennial impulse with, respectively, an optimistic and pessimistic eschatological expectation. By utopianism I mean the belief that historical trends are inevitably leading to a wonderful millennial outcome (Manuel and Manuel, 1979), including the Enlightenment narrative of inevitable human progress (Nash, 2000 Tuveson, 1949). By apocalypticism I do not mean simply the belief that something very bad may happen, since very bad events are...

Future evolutionary directions

Even a large global catastrophe such as a 10 km asteroidal cometary impact would not spell doom for our species if we would manage to spread to other solar systems by the time the impactor arrives. We can, however, postulate a number of scenarios, short of extinction, that will test our ability to survive as a species. I will not discuss here scenarios involving intelligent machines or more radical forms of technology-enabled human transformation. 3.5.1 Drastic and rapid climate change without...

Symptoms of dysfunctional millennialism in assessing future scenarios

Some critics denigrate Utopian, millennial, and apocalyptic impulses, both religious and secular, seeing them as irrational at best, and potentially murderous and totalitarian at worst. They certainly can manifest in the dangerous and irrational ways as I have catalogued in this essay. But they are also an unavoidable accompaniment to public consideration of catastrophic risks and techno-utopian possibilities. We may aspire to a purely rational, technocratic analysis, calmly balancing the...

Suggestions for further reading

Longing for the End A History of Millennialism in Western Civilization (London St. Martin's Press). A history of apocalyptic expectations from Zoroastrianism to Waco. Cohn, N. (1999). The Pursuit of the Millennium Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (New York Oxford University Press, 1961,1970,1999). The classic text on medieval millennialism. Devotes much attention to Communism and Nazism. Heard, A. (1999). Apocalypse Pretty Soon...

The conjunction fallacy

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. Rank the following statements from most probable to least probable 1. Linda is a teacher in an elementary school. 2. Linda works in a bookstore and takes Yoga classes. 3. Linda is active in the feminist movement. 4. Linda is a psychiatric social worker. 5. Linda is a...

Risk to interdependent infrastructure and sectors of the economy

The myriad economic, organizational, and institutional sectors, among others, that characterize countries in the developed world can be viewed as a complex large-scale system of systems. (In a similar way, albeit on an entirely different scale, this may apply to the terrorist networks and to the global socio-economic and political environment.) Each system is composed of numerous interconnected and interdependent cyber, physical, social, and organizational infrastructures (subsystems), whose...

Peter Taylor Catastrophes and insurance

This chapter explores the way financial losses associated with catastrophes can be mitigated by insurance. It covers what insurers mean by catastrophe and risk, and how computer modelling techniques have tamed the problem of quantitative estimation of many hitherto intractable extreme risks. Having assessed where these techniques work well, it explains why they can be expected to fall short in describing emerging global catastrophic risks such as threats from biotechnology. The chapter ends...

Yacov Y Haimes Systemsbased risk analysis Introduction

Risk models provide the roadmaps that guide the analyst throughout the journey of risk assessment, if the adage 'To manage risk, one must measure it' constitutes the compass for risk management. The process of risk assessment and management may be viewed through many lenses, depending on the perspective, vision, values, and circumstances. This chapter addresses the complex problem of coping with catastrophic risks by taking a systems engineering perspective. Systems engineering is a...

Contemporary technomillennialism

4.5.1 The singularity and techno-millennialism Joel Garreau's (2006) recent book on the psychoculture of accelerating change, Radical Evolution The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies - and What It Means to Be Human, is structured in three parts Heaven, Hell and Prevail. In the Heaven scenario he focuses on the predictions of inventor Ray Kurzweil, summarized in his 2005 book, The Singularity Is Near. The idea of a techno-millennial 'Singularity' was coined in a 1993 paper by...

Introduction anthropic reasoning and global risks

Different types of global catastrophic risks (GCRs) are studied in various chapters of this book by direct analysis. In doing so, researchers benefit from a detailed understanding of the interplay of the underlying causal factors. However, the causal network is often excessively complex and difficult or impossible to disentangle. Here, we would like to consider limitations and theoretical constraints on the risk assessments which are provided by the general properties of the world in which we...

Types of millennialism

Western scholars have pointed to three theological positions among Christian millennialists that appear to have some general applicability to millennial typology, based on the role of human agency in ending Tribulations and bringing the Millennium. Premillennialism is the most familiar form of millennial thought in the United States and Europe today, characterized by the belief that everything will get awful before the millennium makes them better (Whalen, 2000). Christian premillennialists,...

Extreme value statistics

In extreme value statistics similar regularities have emerged in the most surprising of areas - the extreme values we might have historically treated as awkward outliers. Can it be coincidence that complexity theory predicts inverse power law behaviour, extreme value theory predicts an inverse power pdf, and that empirically we find physical extremes of tides, rainfall, wind, and large losses in insurance showing pareto (inverse power pdf) distribution behaviour 8.11 Conclusion against the gods...

Doomsday Argument

The Doomsday Argument (DA) is an anthropic argument purporting to show that we have systematically underestimated the probability that humankind will become extinct relatively soon. Originated by the astrophysicist Brandon Carter and developed at length by the philosopher John Leslie,8 DA purports to show that we have neglected to fully take into account the indexical information residing in the fact about when in the history of the human species we exist. Leslie (1996) - in what can be...

Hierarchical holographic modelling and the theory of scenario structuring

7.3.1 Philosophy and methodology of hierarchical holographic modelling Hierarchical holographic modelling (HHM) is a holistic philosophy methodology aimed at capturing and representing the essence of the inherent diverse characteristics and attributes of a system - its multiple aspects, perspectives, facets, views, dimensions, and hierarchies. Central to the mathematical and systems basis of holographic modelling is the overlapping among various holographic models with respect to the objective...