December 24, 2008

Global Catastrophic Risks: An Overview

Varhol warningHere is the transcript of my talk Global Catastrophic Risks: An Overview

Some other talks from the meeting are emerging on Accelerating future, including JoSHs scary talk on weather control - while this particular application may not be the most dangerous, I think he is spot on about the risky dynamics of dual-use, global technologies with enormous first mover advantages.

My personal list of indicators that something could be *really* dangerous is:

  • No clear size cut-off - disasters can occur on all scales, including the total scale. This is especially worrying for fat tail phenomena where there is no average.

  • Self-amplifying dynamics - either the disaster itself spreads or replicates, or it is driven by arms races or other external forces that amplify the risk.

  • Unknowable - risks that by their nature cannot be predicted until after they are well underway. Some risks are unknowable due to our ignorance, others because they are ignored as being silly, and some might be unknowable by their nature.

Conversely, risks that have size cut-offs (fires, earthquakes), are not self-amplifying or can be studied are if not safer at least manageable. If we can find tools to introduce cut-offs, stop self-amplification or bound unknowability we can reduce threats quite a lot.

Posted by Anders3 at December 24, 2008 06:05 PM