In this timely book, Toby Ord argues that there is a one in six chance that humanity will suffer an existential catastrophe within the next 100 years, and that minimizing this risk should be a major global priority. We live in an age of heightened existential risk, due to such powerful technologies as nuclear weapons, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence. Ord calls this age “the Precipice.” It is an unsustainable time: humanity cannot carry on playing Russian roulette. Unless we soon achieve a much higher level of existential safety, we will destroy ourselves.
The book offers an engaging and empirically-grounded synoptic view of humanity’s past, present, and future, and of the risks threatening to cause that future to be far worse than it could be. Do not be intimidated by the fact that the book is 480 pages long. The main text is only about 250 pages, and the rest is notes, references, and appendices. You can work through the main narrative quite quickly if you resist the urge to read the notes. Because it is so well written — and on such an important topic — I found the book hard to put down once I got going.
The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity