Technology has been a powerful driver of human progress—but it could also be the force that destroys humanity. This is the chilling conclusion of a new paper by Nick Bostrom from the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford.

He argues that over the course of history, civilizations have developed technologies that have largely been beneficial. However, as science and research expand, it has become easier for technology to cause destruction on a massive scale. This leaves civilizations vulnerable to destroying themselves by creating a powerful, dangerous technology that is difficult to contain. One example Bostrom highlights is biological weapons. Developments in biotechnology could allow anyone, even amateur biologists, to develop a tool that kills millions. According to Bostrom, the world is particularly prone to this destruction as we live in a “semi-anarchic default condition", where there is limited capacity for preventive policing as states lack the ability to identify individuals or groups that carry out illegal actions (like developing a biological weapon). Another feature is the limited capacity for global governance as states struggle to solve coordination problems. He suggests that these issues imply drastic solutions like mass-surveillance systems, preventive policing and a global governance regime capable of decisive action. Acknowledging that all this may not be feasible, Bostrom offers a range of practical solutions like improving oversight of biotechnology-related activities and boosting whistle-blowing systems.

Also read: The Vulnerable World Hypothesis

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