Seven Questions for Existential Risk Studies

Published on 21 June 2022


Recent years have seen the emergence of Existential Risk Studies (ERS), a rich field focused on understanding and mitigating a range of Extreme Technological Risks. This interdisciplinary and idiosyncratic field today finds itself at a crossroads: at the same time as many risks are growing increasingly urgent, there is increasing attention and potential to shape global action in response. The magnitude of both risks and opportunities create an urgent need for this field to reflect on how it defines itself going forward–as a community, as a science, and as a project pursuing change.

Drawing on work from across the ERS field and beyond, as well as the authors' personal experiences, this article seeks to spur and aid this process of reflection. To that end, we pose and discuss seven key questions for the ERS field. These are: (1) how can scholars of ERS choose which risks to prioritize? (2) How or why can we prioritize extreme technological risk over other global problems, and what are the possible downsides of ERS? (3) What are the different possible approaches to studying and managing ETRs? (4) In what ways can the field of ERS pursue a coherent scientific approach? (5) How can or should ERS pursue impact to mitigate ETRs? (6) How diverse is the field of ERS, and how can greater diversity aid the ERS field? (7) How can ERS best reflect on -and communicate about these questions, as it continues to grow?

We do not provide definitive answers, but attempt to explore how and why different people might respond in different ways. We point to open debates around: disciplinary direction, pluralism, epistemic modesty, diversity, inclusion, representation and accountability. We take these challenges to be not just important but increasingly urgent, as pivotal considerations in charting a path forward for our field–and, perhaps, our world.

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