COVID-19 update

31 March 2020

The staff of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, like most of the staff of the University of Cambridge, are working remotely until the University and Government advises otherwise.

Our thoughts are with our friends and colleagues around the world working hard to respond to COVID-19; and those affected physically, psychologically and economically by the pandemic.

We will continue to study existential risks, develop collaborative strategies to reduce them, and foster a global community of academics, technologists and policy-makers working to safeguard humanity.

We are fortunate that most of our research can be done remotely. However, our events programme is paused: we will not host any Public Lectures or expert Workshops until advice changes. We were intending to run a Summer Research Visitor programme in Summer 2020, as we did in Summer 2019. However, that is now on hold, while we consider other possibilities, including postponing or remote mentoring.

We are a research group dedicated to the study and mitigation of risks that could lead to human extinction or civilizational collapse. As such, we feel we have some of the expertise necessary to state that COVID-19 is not an existential risk to humanity as a whole. This is not to understate the harm this pandemic will cause, but instead to assert our resilience. Our societies continue to endure, and our economies will rebound from their freeze. At a global level, humanity can and will recover.

However, this pandemic underlines very clearly our global lack of pandemic preparedness – and indeed our lack of preparedness for a range of catastrophic risks, from climate change to nuclear war. This pandemic was not a freak black swan event. An event of this nature was not just predictable, it was predicted, by a range of experts for a number of years. In our response to the pandemic, and in our recovery to it, we must remember this and put in place the necessary measures to reduce risk and prepare for these events.

Readers might find our resources on Global Catastrophic Biological Risk useful, such as this TEDx talk, this summary of a Parliamentary event, and this written evidence to the Committee on the National Security Strategy’s Inquiry on Biosecurity and Human Health: BHH0010 and BHH0005.

 Best wishes,

The CSER team

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