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Existential risks in the 21st Century
Now is an important time for efforts to reduce existential risk. Even in considering challenges that we can currently anticipate, like climate change, biosecurity and the beneficial development and application of artificial intelligence, there are substantial obstacles to overcome, and questions that merit serious investigation. In these cases, the cost of a misstep is large, and so it is necessary to manage these risks proactively, rather than reactively. Now is an ideal time to start a research program on these challenges in earnest, by asking what we can do to analyse and reduce the most serious of these risks. Although few people are currently working with a specific focus on extreme technological risk, interest in these problems is rapidly growing.
CSER’s work to date
Although The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk has only recently been established, we have made significant advances. In 2014, we drafted technology policy reports and chapters for the UK Government, hosted policy meetings internationally, and developed research connections necessary for progress on these multifaceted problems. In 2015, we have assisted in organising a landmark summit on artificial intelligence in Puerto Rico. Our founders and advisors have contributed to the WEF’s 2015 Global Risk report. We have begun a monthly seminar series exploring extreme technological risks, covering gain of function influenza research and artificial intelligence in our first two meetings.
CSER’s planned work
We will now hire our first full-time researchers. Our team will work with our senior advisory board to develop methods to scan the technological horizons for potential risks, and to explore how technologists and policymakers ought to respond to specific examples of these. We will promote risk-awareness and mitigation strategies through an interdisciplinary academic, industry, and policy network.
Funding contributions of all levels will have a major impact. These funds will support
- Expert workshops on specific risks and general methodologies; production of reports relevant to policymakers and industry
- A programme of visiting experts to engage with CSER’s work; travel and conference funds for CSER’s junior academics
- Seminars, public lectures and conferences; high quality recording of talks and discussions;
- Postdoctoral researcher salaries; buyout of senior academics to guide CSER’s research team
We receive no funding from Cambridge or the government; our current funds are due to the vision of several global risk-focused foundations, and the generous support of philanthropists. As our work progresses we will very be grateful for your support.
“We know that we are stewards of a precious ‘pale blue dot’ in a vast cosmos – a planet with a future measured in billions of years – whose fate depends on humanity’s collective actions this century. But all too often the focus is short term and parochial. We downplay what’s happening even now in impoverished far-away countries. And we give too little thought to what kind of world we’ll leave for our grandchildren. In today’s runaway world, we can’t aspire to leave a monument lasting a thousand years, but it would surely be shameful if we persisted in policies that denied future generations a fair inheritance and left them with a more depleted and more hazardous world”
Lord Martin Rees, Co-Founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk