Today I attended the global catastrophic risk sessions at the Society for Risk Analysis annual meeting in Salt Lake City, and was very pleased by the attendance at these two sessions. Two former Presidents of the society attended, and one, Jonathan Weiner, gave a compelling talk that reminded me very much of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s “Cognitive biases potentially affecting judgment of global risks”. Jonathan called for more attention to global catastrophic risks, including global financial crises, and pointed out specific biases that prevent people from giving due attention to these risks. The whole experience gave me the strong impression that the risk analysis mainstream is very much interested in global catastrophic risks. Congratulations to Seth Baum for spearheading this effort.
Robin Hanson gave a fascinating talk on refuge entry futures. Basically, the idea is that you could potentially judge the probability of catastrophic risks better than the status quo by seeing how many people would be willing to buy tickets to enter secure refuges in case of a disaster or some triggering event.
My talk, which I gave yesterday at a session on nanotechnology risk assessment and perception (everyone besides me was focused primarily on nanoparticles), was titled “Public Scholarship and Global Catastrophic Risk”. Nothing new to readers of this blog, the points are all relatively straightforward:
1) showed the catastrophic risks table from Bostrom (2008)
2) gave a few examples
3) global catastrophic risks (GCRs) outclass all other risks in terms of importance
4) books to read: Global Catastrophic Risks, Military Nanotechnology, The Singularity is Near
5) pointed out Bill Joy’s influential 2000 article, “Why the future doesn’t need us”
6) said that we focus on GRAIN: genetics, robotics, AI, nanotechnology
7) groups working on GCRs: Singularity Institute, Future of Humanity Institute, Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (synthetic biology risk), SENS Foundation (aging is considered a GCR according to Bostrom), Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN), Lifeboat Foundation
8) Quick summary of CRN work, pointed out that more than half of average people view nanotech associated with Drexlerian nanotech (Ann Bostrom gave evidence of this in a talk that came before mine, from a mall intercept study)
9) tried to make it clear to the audience that most risk analysts in nanotechnology today have failed to focus on the important risks, if it weren’t for CRN there wouldn’t have even been a scientific rebuttal of grey goo
10) most risk analysts probably aren’t even clear on why grey goo is implausible, they just dismiss it out of hand without having good reasons or understanding
11) public scholarship: bringing academic work to the public
12) summarized Singularity Institute activities to raise awareness of GCRs: Visiting Fellows Program, Singularity Summit, workshops, blogs, papers, and contributions to edited volumes
13) showed pics of Visiting Fellows Program and Singularity Summit 2010
14) showed San Jose Mercury article on Thiel’s Audacious Optimism dinner to illustrate the enthusiasm of some philanthropists for this area
15) summarized our media exposure since I became media director: a lot, including GQ, New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Playboy (Carl Zimmer), etc.
16) interdisciplinary effort: biology, decision theory, computer science, risk analysis, physics, philosophy, nanotechnology
17) suggested some websites to visit, singinst.org and the like
18) wrapped it up.
The meeting was productive enough that I’ll likely attend next year. Thanks to everyone I met for their stimulating conversations.