Making progress in studying observation selection effects

Identifying and correcting for observation selection biases plays the same role as correcting for other biases in risk analysis, evaluation, and mitigation: we need to know the underlying mechanisms of risk very precisely in order to make any progress towards making humanity safe. Although we are not very well prepared for any of the emergencies discussed in various chapters of this book, a general tendency easily emerges: some steps in mitigation have been made only for risks that are rationally sufficiently understood in as objective manner as possible: pandemics, nuclear warfare, impacts, and so on. We have shown that the observation selection acts to decrease the perceived probability of future risks in several wide classes, giving us a false sense of security.

The main lesson is that we should be careful not to use the fact that life on Earth has survived up to this day and that our humanoid ancestors did not go extinct in some sudden disaster to infer that the Earth-bound life and humanoid ancestors are highly resilient. Even if on the vast majority of Earth-like planets life goes extinct before intelligent life forms evolve, we should still expect to find ourselves on one of the exceptional planets that were lucky enough to escape devastation. In particular, the case of Tau Ceti offers a glimpse of what situation in many other places throughout the universe may be like. With regard to some existential risks, our past success provides no ground for expecting success in the future.

Continue reading here: Acknowledgement

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