The Precipice - Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity
How much do I want to read more? 8/10
Science ficiton at its finest. Because it's real, and open the doors to the most extraordinary journey we could ever imagine: our future.
Thrills come along the spine. I read the introduction and my perspective on Life has already shifted. We are so much more of the little person we think we are.
To the hundred billion people before us, who fashioned our civilization;
To the seven billion now alive, whose actions may determine its fate;
To the trillions to come, whose existence lies in the balance.
PART ONE - THE STAKES
If all goes well, human history is just beginning. Humanity is about two hundred thousand years old. But the Earth will remain habitable for hundreds of millions more—enough time for millions of future generations; enough to end disease, poverty and injustice forever; enough to create heights of flourishing unimaginable today. And if we could learn to reach out further into the cosmos, we could have more time yet: trillions of years, to explore billions of worlds. Such a lifespan places present-day humanity in its earliest infancy. A vast and extraordinary adulthood awaits.
This book argues that safeguarding humanity’s future is the defining challenge of our time. For we stand at a crucial moment in the history of our species. Fueled by technological progress, our power has grown so great that for the first time in humanity’s long history, we have the capacity to destroy ourselves—severing our entire future and everything we could become.
Humanity lacks the maturity, coordination and foresight necessary to avoid making mistakes from which we could never recover. As the gap between our power and our wisdom grows, our future is subject to an ever-increasing level of risk.
So over the next few centuries, humanity will be tested.
Cuba crisis, with submarine equiped with nuclear weapon:
"We’re going to blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all—we will not disgrace our Navy!"
Firing the nuclear weapon required the agreement of the submarine’s political officer, who held the other half of the firing key. Despite the lack of authorization by Moscow, the political officer gave his consent.
On any of the other three submarines, this would have sufficed to launch their nuclear weapon. But by the purest luck, submarine B-59 carried the commander of the entire flotilla, Captain Vasili Arkhipov, and so required his additional consent.
we came precariously close to a nuclear strike on the blockading fleet—a strike which would most likely have resulted in nuclear retaliation, then escalation to a full-scale nuclear war.
The Precipice presents a new ethical perspective: a major reorientation in the way we see the world, and our role in it. In doing so, the book aspires to start closing the gap between our wisdom and power, allowing humanity a clear view of what is at stake, so that we will make the choices necessary to safeguard our future.
- Part One (The Stakes). a bird’s-eye view of our unique moment in history.
- Part Two (The Risks). the science of the risks facing humanity, both from nature and from ourselves.
- Part Three (The Path Forward). tools for understanding. new strategies.
- Finally: a vision of our future: of what we could achieve were we to succeed.
These risks that first awoke us to the possibilities of destroying ourselves are just the beginning. There are emerging risks, such as those arising from biotechnology and advanced artificial intelligence, that may pose much greater risk to humanity in the coming century.
The central claim is that there are real risks to our future, but that our choices can still make all the difference. I believe we are up to the task: that through our choices we can pull back from the precipice and, in time, create a future of astonishing value—with a richness of which we can barely dream, made possible by innovations we are yet to conceive. Indeed, my deep optimism about humanity’s future is core to my motivation in writing this book. Our potential is vast. We have so much to protect.
1- STANDING AT THE PRECIPICE
"a planet, newly formed, placidly revolves around its star; life slowly forms; a kaleidoscopic procession of creatures evolves; intelligence emerges which, at least up to a point, confers enormous survival value; and then technology is invented. It dawns on them that there are such things as laws of Nature, that these laws can be revealed by experiment, and that knowledge of these laws can be made both to save and to take lives, both on unprecedented scales. Science, they recognize, grants immense powers. In a flash, they create world-altering contrivances. Some planetary civilizations see their way through, place limits on what may and what must not be done, and safely pass through the time of perils. Others, not so lucky or so prudent, perish."
-- Carl Sagan
We live at a time uniquely important to humanity’s future. To see why, we need to take a step back and view the human story as a whole: how we got to this point and where we might be going next.
Our main focus will be humanity’s ever-increasing power—power to improve our condition and power to inflict harm.
the future of a responsible humanity is extraordinarily bright. But this increasing power has also brought on a new transition, at least as significant as any in our past, the transition to our time of perils.