Technological advances may increase the number of existential threats; threats that could damage life on a global scale challenge our ability to imagine and comprehend their potential scope and scale, and they require the development of resilient strategies to survive. Technology plays a role in both generating these existential risks and in mitigating them. Anthropomorphic risks include runaway AI, engineered pandemics, nanotechnology weapons, or nuclear war. Such low-probability, high-impact events are difficult to forecast and expensive to prepare for but identifying potential risks and developing mitigation strategies in advance can provide some resilience to exogenous shocks.
The range of global catastrophic and existential risks we face today is greater than at any point in human history. Recent threats – the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the rise in severe weather events like wildfires, geopolitical security threats in the Indo-Pacific – served to highlight the imminent nature of these risks and the urgency with which they must be addressed. The pool of these low probability, high consequence events is growing at an alarming rate, meaning that it is only a matter of time before we must grapple with the onset of one or more of these challenges. Further, the threat posed by inadequate continuity of operations and continuity of government planning (COOP/COG) to survive such risks is severe.
Despite the extreme risk, and due to their inherent low probability of occurrence, such threats have been underexamined by the U.S. government. But recent events have proven that must change. In order to better prepare for these events, we must first understand them.
Continuum of Risk
Unknown or underappreciated risks that are yet to be identified could be significant portion of total risk (e.g., new technologies whose risk is yet to be understood, such as nuclear weapons were in 1930 by comparison to 1960).
- Solar Flares
- Asteroids & Comet Impacts
- Naturally Occurring Pathogen Pandemics
- Climate Tipping Points
- Population Collapse
- Nuclear War / Nuclear Winter
- Synthetic or Engineered Pandemics
- Malicious Use of AI or Nanotech