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
- Existential Risk: An Introduction - Andrew Critch. Short explainer video.
- Existential-risk.org - Website. Introductory posts and link list on existential risks.
- Existential-risks.com - Website. Roadmaps on various existential risks.
- The Case for Reducing Extinction Risk - Benjamin Todd. Easy-to-grasp argumentation for caring about X-risks by one of the main thinkers in the space.
- The Expected Value of Extinction Risk Reduction is Positive - Jan Brauner, Friederike Grosse-Holz. A rigorous philosophical case for reducing X-risks.
- Resources on Existential Risk - Bruce Schneider. Comprehensive primer on the concepts of existential risks, including introductions to main risks.
- Existential Risk: Diplomacy & Governance - Sebastian Farquhar, John Halstead, Owen Cotton-Barratt, Stefan Schubert, Haydn Belfield, Andrew Snyder-Beattie. An intro to political and strategic questions regarding X-risks.
- The Existential Risk of Math Errors - Gwern. Mathematical mistakes/error-rates limit our understanding of X-risks and ability to defend against them.
- Unknown Existential Risks - EA Forum. On existential risks that have not yet been identified.
- S-Risks: Why They Are The Worst X-Risks and How to Prevent Them - Max Daniel. Introduces “Suffering Risks” that are potentially worse than extinction.
- S-risks.org - Website. Introductory posts and further resources on S-Risks.
- Longevity, Existential Risk & AI | Jaan Tallinn - Foresight Institute. Interview with CSER and FLI founder Jaan Tallinn on various X-risk topics.
- Defense in Depth Against Human Extinction: Prevention, Response, Resilience, and Why They All Matter - Max Daniel, Anders Sandberg, Owen Cotton-Barratt. Classifies risks into different categories to determine strategic responses.
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
- Inadequate Equilibria - Eliezer Yudkowsky. On how society gets stuck via incentive misalignment for decision-makers, asymmetric information, and suboptimal Nash Equilibria. Moloch’s Toolbox - excerpt introducing the main mechanisms.
- The Future of Human Evolution - Nick Bostrom. On possible negative long-term trajectories for a civilization driven by evolution and competition.
- Coordination Problems in Evolution - Martin Sustrik. A deepdive into the dynamics of the evolution Bostrom discusses.
- Meditations on Moloch, Growing Children for Bostrom’s Disneyland - Scott Alexander. A classic on coordination problems, including lots of examples, and a future extrapolation of the underlying game theoretic dynamics. “Maybe they would sit back and enjoy their victory, sitting at the top of a pyramid of unknown dozens or hundreds of levels of reality.”
- Slaying Alexander’s Moloch - Jose Luis Ricon. Explores meta tools to solve some of the coordination problems in Meditations on Moloch.
- Capturing Gnon And Naive Rationalism - Hurlock Shoalmes. A critical reply to coordination problems and solutions discussed in Meditations on Moloch.
- Part 1: Ethics, Now and Tomorrow & Part 2: Racing Where? - Foresight Institute. Debate with Robin Hanson, Paul Christiano, Peter Eckersley, Allison Duettmann, Christine Peterson, Alyssa Vance, and Mark Miller on the trajectory of civilization.
- This is the Dreamtime, Civilization vs. Human Desire, On Value Drift, Age of Em - Robin Hanson. On competitive long-term dynamics shaping our future and our values, focusing on a future of emulated human minds living at subsistence.
- Poor Folks Do Smile - Scott Alexander, Robin Hanson. A written debate on whether futures with minds living at subsistence levels contain suffering or not.
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
- The Story of Us, Putting Time into Perspective - Tim Urban. A series of blog posts interpreting human history, and a post on the effects of our subjective understanding of time.
- A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson. “Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result -- eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly -- in you.”
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari. A detailed account of human evolution and more recent economic and technological developments.
- The Fall of Civilizations - Podcast. Each episode focuses on one civilization at a time, exploring its history from its beginning to its end.
- The History of Our World in 18 Minutes - David Christian. A visual TED talk summarizing our long-term history.
- The Vital Question - Nick Lane. Explores crucial dynamics that shaped our evolution.
- What Happened Before History?, How Evolution Works, Time - Kurzgesagt. Illustrative explainer videos on human origins.
- A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking. A physics-focused history of time.
- Asimov’s Chronology of the World - Isaac Asimov. A dated but well-written account of our long-term history.
Discovering How Far We Got: Progress
Exploring A Long Road Ahead: Long-termism
- The Last Human, The Final Border - Kurzgesagt. Explainer videos on the long-term future.
- Long-term Trajectories of Human Civilization - Seth Baum. Explores various scenarios of human evolution shaped by technological progress.
- Astronomical Waste - Nick Bostrom. On what we give up with each minute we delay exploring the universe.
- What is At Stake - Robin Hanson. On how much of the future universe humans can influence.
- Why The Long-run Future Matters More Than Anything Else - Robert Wiblin. An easy-to-grasp case for caring about the long-term future of humanity.
- The Case for Long-termism - Hilary Greaves, William MacAskill. A longer philosophical case for long-termism.
- How to Help People Millions of Years From Now - Dylan Matthews. On what we can possibly do now that may have positive impact on the distant future.
- Taking the Long View - Stuart Brand. Essay on the advantages of the long-term view. LongNow seminars - Long-termist podcast with seminars curated by Stuart Brand.
- Long-termism: Potential Research Priorities - Forethought Foundation. Overview of long-termist research priorities.
- Roadmap for the Most Important Century - Holden Karnofksy. On why this century is exceptionally important for the long-term future and how to navigate this crucial time.
- Starships and Tokens: The Map - Trent McConaghy. Blog post on building a tokenizable roadmap to drive long-term technological progress.
- Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur. Youtube channel. Especially the playlists "Becoming an Interplanetary Species", "Generation Ships & Interstellar Colonization", "Post Scarcity Civilizations" and "Civilizations at the End of Time".
- Technology Trees - Foresight Institute. Maps technological capabilities and challenges for beneficial long-term futures in biotechnology, nanotechnology, neurotechnology, computer science, and space.
- Cosmological Koans - Anthony Aguirre. Zen-style vignettes about the cosmos and our life within it.
- The Index - Google doc. Indexes long-termist science-heavy ideas and resources.
- The Valmy - Podcast. Collects top episodes from other futurist podcasts.
- The Lunar Society - Dwarkhesh Patel Podcast. Interviews scientists, historians, economists and founders on long-termist ideas.
- Beautiful News - Website. News website focused on civilizational progress.
- WIP - Website. Stripe Press blog with guests posts on progress-oriented authors.
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
- Transhumanist Values - Nick Bostrom. On global security, technological progress, wide access and derivative values required to explore the posthuman realm.
- Transhumanist Manifesto - Natasha Vita-More. On life extension, and other transhumanist aspirations and rights.
- Transhumanist Resources - Anders Sandberg. Introducing transhumanism through the individual, global, cultural, technological, and organizational spheres.
- An Anarchist-Transhumanist Declaration - Kris Notaro. Google doc that combines the principles of anarchism with the principles of transhumanism.
- The Extropian Principles - Max More. On boundless expansion, self-transformation, dynamic optimism, intelligent technology, and spontaneous order as defining pillars of the extropian mission.
- Extropy Magazine - Archive containing digital versions of all extropian magazine editions.
- How the Extropian Quest for Digital Cash Secured Our Tips to the Stars - Aaron van Wirdum. Revisits the role of the extropian community in building the cryptocommerce of today.
- The Russian Cosmists - George Young. History of ideas and key thinkers in cosmism.
- A Cosmist Manifesto - Ben Goertzel. Inspired by the Russian cosmists, this manifesto covers exotic futures defined by AI, nanotechnology, uploading, immortality, and other developments.
- The Terrapunk Manifesto - Nasjaq. From steampunk to cyberpunk to solarpunk to terrapunk.
- Cosmism Foundation - Cosmism Foundation Youtube channel. Recordings of talks from the cosmism conference.
- Panel with Peter Thiel, Aubrey De Grey, Eliezer Yudkowsky - Singularity Summit Youtube channel. Conference recording focused on the role of individual proactivity in shaping the singularity.
- The Singularity is Near, Singularity Q&A - Ray Kurzweil. Early classic on an AI-fueled singularity, and a shorter Q&A on main themes in the book.
- Hopepunk and Solarpunk - Alyssa Hull. An intro to hopepunk and solarpunk.
- Nine Subgenres to Help You Understand the Future - Jay Owens. Reviews alternative futurisms, including Chinese Sci-Fi, Afrofuturism, Gulf Futurism, Climate Fiction, Solarpunk, Water Crisis Thrillers, Kitchen Sink Dystopia, Woke Space Opera, The New Weird.
- Flame Wars - Mark Dery. A historical account of cyberpunk futures.
- WorldAnvil - Website. A world-building tool with transhumanist, solarpunk, and cypherpunk options.
- Effective Accelerationism - BasedBeffJezos. On technology accelerationism.
- The World’s Fair Gallery - Art riffing off previous world fairs to create world fair posters about the future.
Fuelled by Fiction: Sci-Fi