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In futurology, an existential risk is a risk that is both global and terminal. Nick Bostrom defines an existential risk as a risk "where an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential." The term is frequently used in transhumanist and Singularitarian communities to describe disaster and doomsday scenarios caused by non-Friendly superintelligence, misuse of molecular nanotechnology, or other sources of danger.
Among the grimmest warnings of existential risks from advanced technology are those of computer scientist Bill Joy, who envisages the possibility of global destruction as new technologies become increasingly powerful and uncontrollable, and Martin Rees who has written about an extensive range of risks to human survival. Environmentalist Bill McKibben fears that human life will come to seem meaningless if certain historical limits to human technological capabilities are exceeded. The risk perceived here is psychological, rather than physical, but it would involve a universal and irreversible diminution of human life.
While transhumanism advocates the development of advanced technologies to enhance human physical and cognitive capacities, transhumanist thinkers typically acknowledge that the same technologies could bring existential risks. Some transhumanists, including Bostrom, are engaged in consideration of how these risks might best be reduced or prevented.
Joel Garreau's book Radical Evolution contains extensive discussion of possible existential risks (and possible radical benefits) from emerging technologies.
- Our approach to existential risks cannot be one of trial-and-error. There is no opportunity to learn from errors. The reactive approach – see what happens, limit damages, and learn from experience – is unworkable. Rather, we must take a proactive approach. This requires foresight to anticipate new types of threats and a willingness to take decisive preventive action and to bear the costs (moral and economic) of such actions.
- -- Nick Bostrom
- Organizations formed to prevent existential risks
- Annihilation (psychology)
- Articles and Essays
- Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios - The original essay by Nick Bostrom
- Immortalist Utilitarianism - An essay by Michael Anissimov, the 5th section of which concerns existential risks
- Human Survival Risks
- Why the future doesn't need us, Wired, April 2000 - Bill Joy's influential call to relinquish "dangerous" technologies.
- Joel Garreau, Radical Evolution, 2005
- Martin Rees, Our Final Hour (UK title: "Our Final Century"), 2003, ISBN 0465068626
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