Democratising Risk: In Search of a Methodology to Study Existential Risk
35 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2021
Date Written: December 28, 2021
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
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