Last year, I wrote an article bout how Sam Harris is a lot like Donald Trump — specifically, in the way that each has managed to bypass quality-control checkpoints in communicating with their (overlapping) audiences. Trump uses Twitter, and Harris uses his podcast.

This resulted in a fair amount of impossibly confused online debate, much of which was misdirected at a quote I included as an example of Harris’s tendency toward misinformation and (what we can call) selective anti-intellectualism. Harris fans just hate it when people quote his own words; there is a massive victimhood culture of relentless grievances about…

But we need to get our act together

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Every year since 2016, a group of students at Princeton University have hosted a conference called “Envision.” The 2019 conference included speakers like Susan Schneider, Anders Sandberg, Ruha Benjamin, Aubrey de Grey, Michele Reilly, and Francesca Ferrando. I gave one of the opening talks on the first day of the conference, focusing on the potential downsides of continued technological development. This is that talk.

Let’s start with some historical context. Since time immemorial, there have been people in every generation who have wildly waved their arms in the air and vociferously shouted that theirs is the last — that the…

More people than you might expect — and new technologies might give them the power to do it

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For most of human history, the question of who would want to destroy the world didn’t much matter. The reason, of course, was that that no individual or group of humans could demolish civilization or cause our extinction. Our ancestors just didn’t have the tools: no amount of spears, arrows, swords, or catapults would have enabled them — even the most bloodthirsty and misanthropic — to have inflicted harm in every corner of the world.

This changed with the invention of the atomic bomb. While scholars often identify 1945 as the year that human self-annihilation became possible, a more accurate…


Between climate change and more, we could be sleepwalking into annihilation

Asteroids, supervolcanoes, nuclear war, climate change, engineered viruses, artificial intelligence, and even aliens — the end may be closer than you think. For the next two weeks, OneZero will be featuring essays drawn from editor Bryan Walsh’s forthcoming book End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World, which hits shelves on August 27 and is available for pre-order now, as well as pieces by other experts in the burgeoning field of existential risk. But we’re not helpless. It’s up to us to postpone the apocalypse.

Lately I’ve become obsessed with the question: Is this how it all…

When the fate of the human species is at stake, panic is the right response — if it’s followed by action

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During a recent speech at the European Union parliament, the teenage activist Greta Thunberg began her talk as follows: “My name is Greta Thunberg. I’m 16 years old. I come from Sweden. And I want you to panic.”

Her reasoning goes like this: While panicking is counterproductive when there’s nothing to panic about, it serves an important purpose when there’s a genuine cause for alarm. Panicking about vaccines causing autism or commercial airliners leaving chemtrails at 35,000 feet is an obvious waste of energy. …


Oy vey.

Re: Robin Hanson’s statement: “rape and slavery are far from the only possible levers!”

Maybe I could have been clearer: at no point have I thought, and nowhere have I claimed, that Hanson endorses rape and slavery. Rather, my point is this: Imagine that I make an argument for how to improve society and at the end add, “But gathering all the Jews together and stringing them up on the sides of building’s is far from the only possible method!”

(a) This is a truly horrendous thing to say; if I have to say this, then…

There is a good chance that a child born today will live to see colonies on Mars, and perhaps beyond. NASA operates a colonization program that aims to put humans on Mars by the 2030s, and the founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, declared in 2016 that martian colonies would pop up “in our lifetimes.”

Many factors are driving this quest into space. Some say that expansion is simply in our genes, while others see the colonization of Mars as a way of inspiring young people to get involved in science. Perhaps the most morally compelling reason concerns the very survival…

Last February, Buzzfeed reported on “many wide-ranging allegations of [Lawrence] Krauss’s inappropriate behavior [toward women] over the last decade — including groping women, ogling and making sexist jokes to undergrads, and telling an employee at Arizona State University, where he is a tenured professor, that he was going to buy her birth control so she didn’t inconvenience him with maternity leave.” The article continues: “In response to complaints, two institutions — Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario — have quietly restricted him from their campuses. …

Is the world getting better? The Harvard psychologist and polymath Steven Pinker wants you to think that it is. And there happens to be a considerable body of evidence to support Pinker’s claim that humanity has indeed made progress with respect to human well-being, not to mention scientific knowledge and technological capability.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Pinker outlines some of this evidence, arguing that the supposed “gloominess” found on the political “right” and “left” is not merely wrong but “decidedly un-American.” Yet I believe that Pinker’s proselytizing for progress is misleading at best and potentially dangerous at…

“The US is an apocalyptic nation,” writes the terrorism scholar Frances Flannery. For example, according to a Pew poll, seventy-nine percent of American Christians believe that Jesus will someday return, and forty-one percent expect this to occur before 2050. Furthermore, nineteen percent believe that Obama is the Antichrist. And the most powerful religious lobby in the US, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), is run by a Texas megachurch pastor named John Hagee who once wrote that “We are standing on the brink of a nuclear Armageddon. The coming nuclear showdown with Iran is a certainty.” …

Phil Torres

Author and scholar of existential threats to humanity and civilization. @xriskology

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