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Our choice: learn the lesson from COVID or get flattened by the next curve

Climate change and unaligned AI pose a greater existential risk than a pandemic. Could we muster the will to prevent them?

A decade and a half ago, in August of 2005, an unprecedented disaster hit the U.S. Gulf Coast. Even though its impact was more localized than the upheaval we are facing now, Hurricane Katrina caused tremendous devastation and suffering. There wasn’t much we could do to hold off the storm’s landfall, but the maintenance of levees, investment in water management, early allocation of resources commensurate with the level of risk was surely up to us.

averting a highly probable calamity is what we must, by definition, do before the event

The estimated economic cost of Katrina exceeded $161 billion, or 30 times the budget of the U.S. government agency tasked with disaster mitigation ($5.5 billion). This was one among many warnings the world failed to heed — averting a highly probable calamity is what we must, by definition, do before the event.

But all other risks pale in comparison with the unaligned artificial intelligence, which is a thousand times more likely to end human existence.

The choice of how things develop appears to be ours, at least for the time being.

Unlike a once-in-a-generation pandemic, AI is not going to ‘naturally occur.’ The choice of how things develop appears to be ours, at least for the time being. Many leading thinkers in this space advocate for greater global cooperation and for boosting research into AI safety. As with Climate Change, the sooner we allocate our attention and resources to this issue the higher our chances for success.

If we fail to learn this lesson from coronavirus, humanity will find itself flattened by the next curve it brings upon itself.

When asked about life after COVID19 on Ezra Klein podcast, Bill Gates summed it up: “I hope that this draws the world together.” I couldn’t agree more. A pandemic sees no borders, and defeating it one country at a time is neither practical nor cost-efficient. We need to move beyond the hope of global cooperation towards decisive action. Climate change, engineered pandemics, out-of-control AI, and other anthropogenic risks all pose a serious threat to human existence, and to avoid another Hurricane Katrina or be taken by surprise when the next pandemic hits, we have to start collectively allocating commensurate resources to mitigate those threats. And we must do it now. If we fail to learn this lesson from coronavirus, humanity will find itself flattened by the next curve it brings upon itself.

Global citizen, idealist, optimist, keynote speaker. Founder of SNConsulting.nl Write for @WEF and @Futurism. Thanks for following 🙏