The Vulnerable World Hypothesis

“Scientific and technological progress might change people’s capabilities or incentives in ways that would destabilize civilization. For example, advances in DIY biohacking tools might make it easy for anybody with basic training in biology to kill millions; novel military technologies could trigger arms races in which whoever strikes first has a decisive advantage; or some economically advantageous process may be invented that produces disastrous negative global externalities that are hard to regulate. This paper introduces the concept of a ​vulnerable world​: roughly, one in which there is some level of technological development at which civilization almost certainly gets devastated by default, i.e. unless it has exited the “semi-anarchic default condition…

Type-1 vulnerability​: There is some technology which is so destructive and so easy to use that, given the semi-anarchic default condition, the actions of actors in the apocalyptic residual make civilizational devastation extremely likely…

Type-2a vulnerability​: There is some level of technology at which powerful actors have the ability to produce civilization-devastating harms and, in the semi-anarchic default condition, face incentives to use that ability…

Type-2b vulnerability​: There is some level of technology at which, in the semi-anarchic default condition, a great many actors face incentives to take some slightly damaging action such that the combined effect of those actions is civilizational devastation.

Type-0 vulnerability​: There is some technology that carries a hidden risk such that the default outcome when it is discovered is inadvertent civilizational devastation.

-Nick Bostrom, “The Vulnerable World Hypothesis.” NickBostrom.com. 2018.

Kelsey Piper has a nice explainer on Vox.

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