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Long-term trajectories of human civilization

Seth D. Baum (Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, New York, New York, USA)
Stuart Armstrong (Future of Humanity Institute, Department of Philosophy, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)
Timoteus Ekenstedt (Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden)
Olle Häggström (Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden)
Robin Hanson (Department of Economics, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, USA)
Karin Kuhlemann (Department of Political Science, University College London, London, UK)
Matthijs M. Maas (Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)
James D. Miller (Department of Economics, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, USA)
Markus Salmela (Umeå, Sweden)
Anders Sandberg (Future of Humanity Institute, Department of Philosophy, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)
Kaj Sotala (Foundational Research Institute, Berlin, Germany)
Phil Torres (Washington, DC, USA)
Alexey Turchin (Science for Life Extension Foundation, Moscow, Russian Federation)
Roman V. Yampolskiy (JB Speed School of Engineering, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA)


ISSN: 1463-6689

Article publication date: 11 February 2019

Issue publication date: 11 March 2019




This paper aims to formalize long-term trajectories of human civilization as a scientific and ethical field of study. The long-term trajectory of human civilization can be defined as the path that human civilization takes during the entire future time period in which human civilization could continue to exist.


This paper focuses on four types of trajectories: status quo trajectories, in which human civilization persists in a state broadly similar to its current state into the distant future; catastrophe trajectories, in which one or more events cause significant harm to human civilization; technological transformation trajectories, in which radical technological breakthroughs put human civilization on a fundamentally different course; and astronomical trajectories, in which human civilization expands beyond its home planet and into the accessible portions of the cosmos.


Status quo trajectories appear unlikely to persist into the distant future, especially in light of long-term astronomical processes. Several catastrophe, technological transformation and astronomical trajectories appear possible.


Some current actions may be able to affect the long-term trajectory. Whether these actions should be pursued depends on a mix of empirical and ethical factors. For some ethical frameworks, these actions may be especially important to pursue.



This paper is based on a discussion led by Baum on September 9, 2017 at the Workshop on Existential Risk to Humanity, which was hosted by Häggström and Sandberg at Chalmers University of Technology. The authors thank Catherine Rhodes, Aron Vallinder and Johan Wästlund for comments at the discussion. They also thank Jacob Haqq-Misra and two anonymous reviewers for helpful feedback on an earlier version of this paper and Melissa Thomas-Baum for assistance with graphics.


Baum, S.D., Armstrong, S., Ekenstedt, T., Häggström, O., Hanson, R., Kuhlemann, K., Maas, M.M., Miller, J.D., Salmela, M., Sandberg, A., Sotala, K., Torres, P., Turchin, A. and Yampolskiy, R.V. (2019), "Long-term trajectories of human civilization", Foresight, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 53-83.



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