‘The Precipice’ by Toby Ord

The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity is a book by philosopher and Oxford Senior Research Fellow Toby Ord — who you may remember from a recent Link List where I mentioned his incredible Apollo Earth photo restoration project — that examines the myriad catastrophes that could end all human life and/or civilization as we know it, and how those types of events aren’t just sci-fi; they’re 100% real and already on the horizon.

From the description:

If all goes well, human history is just beginning. Our species could survive for billions of years – enough time to end disease, poverty, and injustice, and to flourish in ways unimaginable today. But this vast future is at risk. With the advent of nuclear weapons, humanity entered a new age, where we face existential catastrophes – those from which we could never come back. Since then, these dangers have only multiplied, from climate change to engineered pathogens and artificial intelligence. If we do not act fast to reach a place of safety, it will soon be too late.

Drawing on over a decade of research, The Precipice explores the cutting-edge science behind the risks we face. It puts them in the context of the greater story of humanity: showing how ending these risks is among the most pressing moral issues of our time. And it points the way forward, to the actions and strategies that can safeguard humanity.

If anything has made it clear how collectively unprepared we are in the face of global disasters, it’s been the entire last year and a half. A worldwide virus outbreak was something world leaders have been warned about for years, and still, almost no one was ready when the reality struck. What other scenarios might we otherwise avoid — or at least mitigate — if people took these things more seriously before they happened? (*cough* climate change *cough*)

This excellently written review on Goodreads describes the book far better than I can:

From the opening words to the closing paragraphs, you can sense the urgency at the tip of the author’s tongue. Mild mannered though his philosophical style may be, there is a sense of apocalyptic poetry in the channeled desperation that drips from the pages like molten candle wax. Even in good times the feeling of existential anguish is no stranger to any sane persons’ sensibility. Bad times all the more weigh heavily on our hearts. The extra blanket of terror that has settled down on humanity as a side product of globalization and the nuclear age has permeated our awful nightmares. What will a human future look like? Do we even HAVE a future? Contemplating our demise, the eternal darkness of humanity, can be paralyzing, senseless, and necessary.

We all need to learn to think bigger, and understand that our actions today could ramifications far into the future, good or bad. The utopias of science fiction imagination could become a reality one day, but we have to solve a lot of potential problems before then, and that can only begin when we are aware and care enough to do something about it.

Get the book in these formats: