Democratising Risk: In Search of a Methodology to Study Existential Risk

35 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2021

See all articles by Carla Zoe Cremer

Carla Zoe Cremer

University of Oxford - Future of Humanity Institute; University of Oxford - Medical Sciences Division

Luke Kemp

Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge

Date Written: December 28, 2021

Abstract

Studying potential global catastrophes is vital. The high stakes of existential risk studies (ERS) necessitate serious scrutiny and self-reflection. We argue that existing approaches to studying existential risk are not yet fit for purpose, and perhaps even run the risk of increasing harm. We highlight general challenges in ERS: accommodating value pluralism, crafting precise definitions, developing comprehensive tools for risk assessment, dealing with uncertainty, and accounting for the dangers associated with taking exceptional actions to mitigate or prevent catastrophes. The most influential framework for ERS, the “techno-utopian approach” (TUA), struggles with these issues and has a unique set of additional problems: it unnecessarily combines the study of longtermism and longtermist ethics with the study of extinction, relies on a non-representative moral worldview, uses ambiguous and inadequate definitions, fails to incorporate insights from risk assessment in relevant fields, chooses arbitrary categorisations of risk, and advocates for dangerous mitigation strategies. Its moral and empirical assumptions might be particularly vulnerable to securitisation and misuse. We suggest several key improvements: separating the study of extinction ethics (ethical implications of extinction) and existential ethics (the ethical implications of different societal forms), from the analysis of human extinction and global catastrophe; drawing on the latest developments in risk assessment literature; diversifying the field, and; democratising its policy recommendations.

Keywords: existential risk, extinction, democracy, global catastrophic risk, longtermism, transhumanism, utilitarianism

Suggested Citation

Cremer, Carla Zoe and Kemp, Luke, Democratising Risk: In Search of a Methodology to Study Existential Risk (December 28, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3995225

Carla Zoe Cremer (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Future of Humanity Institute ( email )

Suite 8, Littlegate House
16/17 St Ebbe's Street
Oxford, OX1 1PT
United Kingdom

University of Oxford - Medical Sciences Division ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford OX1 3PG, Oxfordshire OX3 9DU
United Kingdom

Luke Kemp

Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge ( email )

16 Mill Lane
Cambridge, CB2 1SB
United Kingdom

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