On February 8th and 9th around twenty leading academics and policy-makers from the UK, USA, Germany, Finland, and Sweden gathered at our workshop in Oxford to discuss governance in existential risks. This brought together a mixture of specialists in relevant subject domains, diplomats, policy experts, and researchers with broad methodological expertise in existential risk.
We had set out to generate and prioritise concrete objectives intended to combat existential risks over a 5-10 year horizon. They are intended to aid us reaching strategic objectives, which are more abstract and long-term. These strategic objectives were, in the main, determined prior to the workshop by Future of Humanity Institute and Global Priorities Project researchers.
The assembled expert together generated no less than 140 possible concrete objectives. Moreover, the lack of overlap between the brainstorming of different groups suggests that even this list does not explore the full possibility space of concrete objectives. In the subsequent prioritisation sessions – partitioned into one “impact” and one “tractability” session – the three highest ranked objectives were:
Organise a series of side-events on existential risks at important conferences such as Davos World Economic Forum or the Munich Security Conference.
Establish a $1M X-prize for alternative food supply.
Establish engineered pandemic scenario planning at the international level.
At least the first two of these are intriguingly tractable – they require only a single well-resourced group to decide to pursue and deliver them. We plan to investigate the list in substantial detail and subject the most promising ideas to more scrutiny before pursuing those that stand up to the test.
More generally, many of the highest ranked objectives fell under that what we termed “capacity building”. They are objectives which, if reached, increase our capacity to combat existential risk, but do not address it directly. Examples include various methods for increasing research on existential risk as well as methods for increasing key actors’ awareness of existential risk. Objectives which address existential risks directly, such as “encourage a large country to increase food and fertilizer stockpiles to six months”, were often rated lower. It is possible this reflects the bias of the expertise in the room, but it may reflect the current stage of development of strategies to reduce existential risk.
The slides used in the workshops are available here. We will be developing the outputs in more detail as part of our work for the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs developing policy priorities for the international community in existential risk.