Scientific and technological progress might change people’s capabilities or incentives in ways that would destabilize civilization. For example, advances in DIY biohacking tools might make it easy for anybody with basic training in biology to kill mil- lions; novel military technologies could trigger arms races in which whoever strikes first has a decisive advantage; or some economically advantageous process may be invented that produces disastrous negative global externalities that are hard to regulate. This paper introduces the concept of a vulnerable world: roughly, one in which there is some level of technological development at which civilization almost certainly gets devastated by default, i.e. unless it has exited the ‘semi-anarchic default condition’. Several counterfactual historical and speculative future vulnerabilities are analyzed and arranged into a typology. A general ability to stabilize a vulnerable world would require greatly amplified capacities for preventive policing and global governance. The vulnerable world hypothesis thus offers a new perspective from which to evaluate the risk-benefit balance of developments towards ubiquitous surveillance or a unipolar world order.
What if there are no easy nukes – how hard it is to make it and its destructive power are correlated – it’s no random that it is this way.
But it didn’t – We can also imagine other deviations from reality that would have made global warming a worse problem. Fossil fuels could have been even more abundant than they are, and available in more cheaply exploitable deposits, which would have encouraged greater consumption.
Some international relations scholars believe that the net economic benefits of conquest have declined substantially in the post-industrial era and that this decline has been a major contributor to peace.
Our the semi-anarchic default condition
- Limited capacity for preventive policing. States do not have sufficiently reliable means of real-time surveillance and interception to make it virtually impossible for any individual or small group within their territory to carry out illegal actions – particularly actions that are very strongly disfavored by > 99 per cent of the population.
- Limited capacity for global governance. There is no reliable mechanism for solving global coordination problems and protecting global commons – particularly in high-stakes situations where vital national security interests are involved.
- Diverse motivations. There is a wide and recognizably human distribution of motives represented by a large population of actors (at both the individual and state level) – in particular, there are many actors motivated, to a substantial degree, by perceived self-interest (e.g. money, power, status, comfort and convenience) and there are someactors (‘the apocalyptic residual’) who would act in ways that destroy civilization even at high cost to themselves.3
Thus we can theoretically consider the following possibilities for achieving stabilization: 1. Restrict technological development. 2. Ensure that there does not exist a large population of actors representing a wide and recognizably human distribution of motives. 3. Establish extremely effective preventive policing. 4. Establish effective global governance.