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Article
Publication date: 29 November 2018

Karin Kuhlemann

This paper aims to consider few cognitive and conceptual obstacles to engagement with global catastrophic risks (GCRs).

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to consider few cognitive and conceptual obstacles to engagement with global catastrophic risks (GCRs).

Design/methodology/approach

The paper starts by considering cognitive biases that affect general thinking about GCRs, before questioning whether existential risks really are dramatically more pressing than other GCRs. It then sets out a novel typology of GCRs – sexy vs unsexy risks – before considering a particularly unsexy risk, overpopulation.

Findings

It is proposed that many risks commonly regarded as existential are “sexy” risks, while certain other GCRs are comparatively “unsexy.” In addition, it is suggested that a combination of complexity, cognitive biases and a hubris-laden failure of imagination leads us to neglect the most unsexy and pervasive of all GCRs: human overpopulation. The paper concludes with a tentative conceptualisation of overpopulation as a pattern of risking.

Originality/value

The paper proposes and conceptualises two new concepts, sexy and unsexy catastrophic risks, as well as a new conceptualisation of overpopulation as a pattern of risking.

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Article
Publication date: 11 February 2019

Seth D. Baum, Stuart Armstrong, Timoteus Ekenstedt, Olle Häggström, Robin Hanson, Karin Kuhlemann, Matthijs M. Maas, James D. Miller, Markus Salmela, Anders Sandberg, Kaj Sotala, Phil Torres, Alexey Turchin and Roman V. Yampolskiy

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…

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Abstract

Purpose

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.

Design/methodology/approach

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.

Findings

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.

Originality/value

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.

Details

foresight, vol. 21 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1463-6689

Keywords

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Article
Publication date: 9 April 2019

Olle Häggström and Catherine Rhodes

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749

Abstract

Details

foresight, vol. 21 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1463-6689

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Article
Publication date: 30 October 2018

Phil Torres

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”…

Abstract

Purpose

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.

Design/methodology/approach

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

Findings

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.

Originality/value

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.

Details

foresight, vol. 21 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1463-6689

Keywords

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