The grim fate that could be ‘worse than extinction’ – BBC News

Original article was published by on artificial intelligence


Toby Ord, a senior research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) at Oxford University, believes that the odds of an existential catastrophe happening this century from natural causes are less than one in 2,000, because humans have survived for 2,000 centuries without one. However, when he adds the probability of human-made disasters, Ord believes the chances increase to a startling one in six. He refers to this century as “the precipice” because the risk of losing our future has never been so high.

Researchers at the Center on Long-Term Risk, a non-profit research institute in London, have expanded upon x-risks with the even-more-chilling prospect of suffering risks. These “s-risks” are defined as “suffering on an astronomical scale, vastly exceeding all suffering that has existed on Earth so far.” In these scenarios, life continues for billions of people, but the quality is so low and the outlook so bleak that dying out would be preferable. In short: a future with negative value is worse than one with no value at all.

This is where the “world in chains” scenario comes in. If a malevolent group or government suddenly gained world-dominating power through technology, and there was nothing to stand in its way, it could lead to an extended period of abject suffering and subjugation. A 2017 report on existential risks from the Global Priorities Project, in conjunction with FHI and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, warned that “a long future under a particularly brutal global totalitarian state could arguably be worse than complete extinction”.

Singleton hypothesis

Though global totalitarianism is still a niche topic of study, researchers in the field of existential risk are increasingly turning their attention to its most likely cause: artificial intelligence.

In his “singleton hypothesis”, Nick Bostrom, director at Oxford’s FHI, has explained how a global government could form with AI or other powerful technologies  – and why it might be impossible to overthrow. He writes that a world with “a single decision-making agency at the highest level” could occur if that agency “obtains a decisive lead through a technological breakthrough in artificial intelligence or molecular nanotechnology”. Once in charge, it would control advances in technology that prevent internal challenges, like surveillance or autonomous weapons, and, with this monopoly, remain perpetually stable.