Existential risks are events that could potentially, by their immediate or long-term effects, lead to the end of humans and/or life of planet Earth. Serious research is being conducted on this topic at several universities, including at the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford, and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risks in Cambridge.
The scenarios most often considered as existential risks involve nanotechnology, superintelligent AI, wars, pandemics, nuclear power, and terrorism. At Five Books, we try to interview as many experts as possible on those important issues, but also sometimes cover them from the angle of fiction, by discussing apocalyptic novels, or even zombies; Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road is often recommended.
In the rapidly-emerging field of existential risks, researchers study the mitigation of threats that could lead to human extinction or civilisational collapse. We met with four researchers from The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, to discuss their recommendations of the best books to get a grasp of this dense subject.
Heartificial Intelligence: Embracing Our Humanity to Maximize Machines
by John Havens
The Technological Singularity
by Murray Shanahan
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
by Cathy O'Neil
Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right From Wrong
by Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen
2001: A Space Odyssey
by Arthur C Clarke
Advances in artificial intelligence pose a myriad of ethical questions, but the most incisive thinking on this subject says more about humans than it does about machines, says Paula Boddington, Oxford academic and author of Towards a Code of Ethics for Artificial Intelligence.
Zombies have returned with a vengeance in recent years, the secret to their undying popularity lying in their ability to embody many different kinds of menace, from social unrest to pandemics, financial insecurity to international terrorism. Greg Garrett, author of Living with the Living Dead, recommends five books to help you prepare for the zombie apocalypse
If killing is wrong, how can going to war be justified? Is it always wrong to kill civilians? If a Nazi soldier were billeted in your home, should you respond when he greets you? Philosopher Cécile Fabre chooses Five Books that help explore the profound ethical dilemmas of war.
The introduction of drones “makes possible perpetual war without costs”, warns the anthropology professor and security expert Hugh Gusterson. Here he selects the best books that examine their ethical, psychological and political impact upon 21st century warfare.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
by Siddhartha Mukherjee
by Erik Larson
by Michael Lewis
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
by Sam Kean
Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation
by Dan Fagin
Public understanding of radiation needs to improve if people are to properly assess its benefits and risks argues author and academic, Timothy Jorgensen. From the discovery of radio to a cancer cluster in New Jersey, he chooses highly readable books illuminating different aspects of radiation.
What will the next global conflict look like? Two of America’s leading defence experts, P W Singer and August Cole, turned to science fiction to explore the prospect of a future war, and how existing technology might be used in one. Here, they choose five novels depicting a fictional World War Three that served as inspiration.
Fear is a great examiner of one’s character, argues the World War II veteran and eminent historian of war, Michael Howard. He recommends the best books on war, two on strategy and three on what it’s actually like for soldiers and commanding officers.