SECTIONS

EXISTENTIAL RISK & EXISTENTIAL HOPE

Many projects are dedicated to identifying the threats to human existence but very few offer paths for what to aim for instead. In light of humanity’s countless challenges, pessimism, negativity, and fatalism about the future are likely traps. Instead of lowering our expectations to fit reality, we need to keep in mind that nothing is stopping us from changing reality to meet our hopes and dreams. Here we want to explore what it means to act from a place of existential hope about the future, rather than a place of existential angst.

Existential Risks: Facing an Uncomfortable Truth

The Fermi Paradox: Where is Everyone?

  • The Fermi Paradox - Tim Urban. Stick-figure-enhanced explainer on why we’re seemingly alone in a universe that should be teaming with life according to the Drake equation.
  • Dissolving the Fermi Paradox - Anders Sandberg, Eric Drexler, Toby Ord. Revisits the problem to show that the paradox goes away if we slightly change the assumptions in the Drake equation.
  • Doomsday Argument, The Anthropic Bias - Nick Bostrom. Explains anthropic reasoning and what our human position in the universe can tell us about our chances for survival.

Technological Risk: Small Kills All

  • The Precipice - Toby Ord. A comprehensive book on X-risks with a focus on technological risks, in particular from biotechnology and AGI. Also as a Foresight Institute podcast.
  • Managing Existential Risks from Emerging Technologies - Nick Becksted, Toby Ord. A primer on existential risks from technologies.
  • The Vulnerable World Hypothesis - Nick Bostrom. On why technological progress may allow a smaller number of people to harm a larger number of people, considering a global monitoring and enforcement regime as a solution.
  • Vulnerable World Hypothesis - Robin Hanson. Replies to Bostrom’s proposed solution that a global monitoring and enforcement regime may bring more problems than it solves, itself posing a potential X-risk.
  • The Fragile World Hypothesis - David Manheim. Proposes an inevitable technological fragility based on complex system decay.
  • Learn WMD - Website. A learning commons for Weapons of Mass Destruction.
  • The Risk of Nuclear Weapons - Future of Life Institute. Intro post and link list on nuclear risks.
  • The Doomsday Machine - Daniel Ellsberg. On the risk of nuclear war and its historic mismanagement.
  • Homo Deus - Yuval Noah Harari. On the risks of emerging technologies altering long-evolved human characteristics and contexts.

Coordination Failures: Dreadful Dynamics

Existential Angst: The Absurd

  • On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense - Friedrich Nietzsche. “In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the haughtiest and most mendacious minute of "world history"- yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.”
  • Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night - Dylan Thomas. Poem.
  • The Myth of Sisyphus - Albert Camus. “We live in the future: “tomorrow,” “later on,” “when you have made your way,” “you will understand when you are old enough.” Such irrelevancies are wonderful, for, after all, it’s a matter of dying. Yet a day comes when a man notices or says that he is thirty. Thus he asserts his youth. But simultaneously he situates himself in relation to time. He takes his place in it. He admits that he stands at a certain point on a curve that he acknowledges having to travel to its end. He belongs to time, and by the horror that seizes him, he recognizes his worst enemy. Tomorrow, he was longing for tomorrow, whereas everything in him ought to reject it. That revolt of the flesh is the absurd.”
  • The Absurd - Thomas Nagel. Replies to Camus: “If a sense of the absurd is a way of perceiving our true situation (even though the situation is not absurd until the perception arises), then what reason can we have to resent or escape it? Like the capacity for epistemological skepticism, it results from the ability to understand our human limitations. It need not be a matter for agony unless we make it so. Nor need it evoke a defiant contempt of fate that allows us to feel brave or proud. Such dramatics, even if carried on in private, betray a failure to appreciate the cosmic unimportance of the situation. If sub species aeternitatis  there is no reason to believe that anything matters, then that doesn't matter either, and we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.“

Existential Hope: Reasons for Optimism

  • Existential Risk and Existential Hope - Owen Cotton-Barratt, Toby Ord. Introduces the term Existential Hope. “Just as we tend to talk about the existential risk rather than existential catastrophe, we want to be able to refer to the chance of an existential eucatastrophe; upside risk on a large scale. We could call such a chance an existential hope… The word ‘eucatastrophe’ is made of the Greek root ‘eu-’ meaning ‘good’ and the word ‘catastrophe’ in its classical sense of a sudden turn. It was coined by Tolkien to refer to the sudden and unexpected turn for the better frequently found at the end of fairy tales.”
  • Rationality: From AI to Zombies - Eliezer Yudkowsky. Especially the books Meta Ethics Sequence with chapters such as “The Moral Void”, “Whither Moral Progress? Morality as Fixed Computation”, “Arbitrary”, and “Existential Angst Factory”. Also the book Mere Reality with chapters such as “Shut Up and Do the Impossible”, “Making an Extraordinary Effort”, “Tsuyoki Naritay”, “A Sense That More Is Possible”, “Beyond The Reach of God”, “Incremental Progress and The Valley”, “Something To Protect”, “The Gift We Can Give Tomorrow”, and “Joy in the Merely Real”. “If it seems to you like nothing you do makes you happy, and you can't even imagine what would make you happy, it's not because the universe is made of particle fields. It's because you're still solving the wrong problem. Keep searching, until you find the visualizable state of affairs in which the existential angst seems like it should go away—that might (or might not) tell you the real problem; but at least, don't blame it on reductionism.” 
  • The Beginning of Infinity - David Deutsch. On the power of explanations to unlock futures of infinite potential. Chapter 8 and 9 are especially recommended.
  • Why Will They Be Happy? - Paul Christiano. On why the future may be shaped by altruistic values to a higher degree than the present.
  • Anti-Natalism and the Future of Suffering - Magnus Vinding. On why, even from a negative utilitarian perspective, human extinction may not be an attractive goal.
  • Spreading Happiness To The Stars Seems Little Harder Than Just Spreading, Are Pain And Pleasure Equally Energy Efficient? - Carl Schulman. On why the future may favor beneficial states as evaluated from a utilitarian perspective.
  • Existential Hope - Foresight Institute Youtube playlist. A collection of interview recordings on positive future visions, strategies, and projects.
  • A Nihilist’s Guide to Meaning - Kevin Simler. A rationalist approach to meaning. 
  • What is Meaningness? - David Chapman. A philosophical blog on meaning.
  • Pragmatic Optimism - Nell Watson. Quotes Petrarch who lived in 1343 CE: "My fate is to live among varied and confusing storms. But for you perhaps, if as I hope and wish you will live long after me, there will follow a better age.” 
  • Optimistic Nihilism, An Antidote to Dissatisfaction - Kurzgesagt. Illustrative explainer videos on optimism based in realism.
  • The Human Project - Erika Ilves, Anna Stillwell: “It may sound like a tall order but we believe that for a learning species nothing should be impossible. To keep the human project going as an infinite game, each generation needs to know the game we are playing and learn to play their round well.” 
  • Future Perfect Newsletter - Twice a week, Dylan Mattews, Sigal Samuel, and Kelsey Piper break down the big, complicated problems the world faces and the most efficient ways to solve them.
  • WARP Institute & WARP News - Fact-based optimistic news every Sunday.
  • Unsung Hero Award - FLI. An award given to individuals who, without having received much recognition at the time, have helped make today dramatically better than it may otherwise have been.
  • The New Right Stuff - Loretta Whitesides. An optimistic, practical handbook of advice for the next generation working on long-term futures.
  • Advice - Patrick Collison. General advice for the next generation working on ambitious projects. 
  • Existential Hope and Imagining Possible Futures - Scott D. Article remixing Existential Hope and related work to point to positive-sum worlds.

Uncovering a Long History: Our Story

Discovering How Far We Got: Progress

Exploring A Long Road Ahead: Long-termism

Dreaming Big: Utopias

  • World-building Contest - Future of Life Institute. Contest on building positive future scenarios enabled by AI, including timelines, short stories and media pieces.
  • Value Drift & Paretotropia | Robin Hanson & Mark Miller - Foresight Institute. On how, in the face of value diversity, it is desirable to strengthen civilization’s tendency to enable pareto-preferred interactions.
  • Paretotopian Goal Alignment - Eric Drexler. On how radical economic growth enabled by technological progress may increasingly support pareto-preferred cooperation and goal alignment in the future.
  • Posts on Raikoth, Archipelago & Atomic Communitarianism - Scott Alexander. A series of blog posts on a rationalist, AI-enabled utopia, and a post on a fictional society defined by a diversity of value-aligned communities that co-exist peacefully.
  • The Adventure: A New Utopia Story - Stuart Armstrong. A longer blog post novella on a utopia where people would actually like to live.
  • Protopia - Kevin Kelly. “The attenuation of war, the abolishment of slavery, the end of torture and the death penalty, universal suffrage, liberal democracy, civil rights and liberties, same-sex marriage and animal rights. These are all examples of protopian progress in the sense that they happened one small step at a time.”
  • Future Imperfect - David Friedman. A realistic future scenario informed by economics, law, and history that is defined by things gradually improving.
  • Post-Scarcity Civilizations & Cognitive Enhancement | Anders Sandberg - Foresight Institute. On a future step for civilization that is defined by technology-enabled post-scarcity.
  • The Fun Sequence, especially Why Eutopia is Scary, Building Weirdtopia - Eliezer Yudkowsky. “This world was ridiculous, and it was going to wake up the neighbors.”
  • Letter from Utopia - Nick Bostrom. “What is Tragedy in Utopia? There is tragedy in Mr. Snowman’s melting. Mass murders, we have found, are not required. What is Weakness in Utopia? Weakness is spending a day gazing into your beloved’s eyes. What is Imperfection in Utopia? Imperfection is the measure of our love for things as they are. What is Dignity in Utopia? Dignity is the affirming power of “No” said discriminately. What is Suffering in Utopia? Suffering is the salt trace left on the cheeks of those who were around before. What is Death in Utopia? Death is the darkness that enshrouds all life, and our guilt for not having created Utopia as soon as we could have.” 
  • Characterizing Utopia - Richard Ngo. Characterized utopia according to factors affecting individual lives, relationship with others, humanity over all, and contentious changes.
  • The Adventure: A New Utopia Story - Stuart Armstrong. A rationalist story about utopia.
  • Dear Alice - The Line. Solarpunk yogurt commercial clip.
  • Utopia Links, Visualizing Utopia - Holden Karnofsky. Selected links and visualizations on utopia.
  • Aleph - Anders Sandberg. Poems, posts, and surrealist visualizations on beautiful futures.
  • Utopia - Tyler Alterman. Pinterest board on utopias.
  • Floating Worlds - Robert McCall. Oldie but goldie space opera art.
  • Why Beautiful Things Make Us Happy - Kurzgesagt. Explainer video on the role of beauty in human lives.
  • Imaginary Worlds tweet - Edgar Dubourg. Tweet thread on why humans recently started enjoying imaginary utopian worlds.

Diving into Futurisms: Transhumanism, Cosmism & Co

Fuelled by Fiction: Sci-Fi