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Facing disaster: the great challenges framework

Phil Torres (Washington, DC, USA)


ISSN: 1463-6689

Article publication date: 30 October 2018

Issue publication date: 11 March 2019




This paper provides a detailed survey of the greatest dangers facing humanity this century. It argues that there are three broad classes of risks – the “Great Challenges” – that deserve our immediate attention, namely, environmental degradation, which includes climate change and global biodiversity loss; the distribution of unprecedented destructive capabilities across society by dual-use emerging technologies; and value-misaligned algorithms that exceed human-level intelligence in every cognitive domain. After examining each of these challenges, the paper then outlines a handful of additional issues that are relevant to understanding our existential predicament and could complicate attempts to overcome the Great Challenges. The central aim of this paper is to constitute an authoritative resource, insofar as this is possible in a scholarly journal, for scholars who are working on or interested in existential risks. In the author’s view, this is precisely the sort of big-picture analysis that humanity needs more of, if we wish to navigate the obstacle course of existential dangers before us.


Comprehensive literature survey that culminates in a novel theoretical framework for thinking about global-scale risks.


If humanity wishes to survive and prosper in the coming centuries, then we must overcome three Great Challenges, each of which is sufficient to cause a significant loss of expected value in the future.


The Great Challenges framework offers a novel scheme that highlights the most pressing global-scale risks to human survival and prosperity. The author argues that the “big-picture” approach of this paper exemplifies the sort of scholarship that humanity needs more of to properly understand the various existential hazards that are unique to the twenty-first century.



Torres, P. (2019), "Facing disaster: the great challenges framework", Foresight, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 4-34.



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