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The Notion of Existential Risk and Its Role for the Anticipation of Technological Development’s Long-Term Impact

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Abstract

Existential risk has been defined by Nick Bostrom (J Evol Technol 9(1):1–31, 2002) as “one where an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential”. In this article, I will argue that the notion of existential risk should replace the so-called “precautionary principle” as a guideline for the governance of technoscientific progress.

In the first part, I analyze the notion of existential risk through a genealogical approach that is typical of the history of ideas, in order to highlight the historical trends that favored the emergence of this notion in recent years. The second part focuses on the different types of existential risks proposed, in particular those related to the endogenous risks associated with the side effects of technological progress. The third part summarizes the research activities and directions of the three major international centers working in the sector of existential risks. In the conclusions, following the studies cited in the article, I summarize the reasons in favor of the use of the notion of existential risk to anticipate the long-term impacts of scientific and technological progress, compared to the more obsolete precautionary principle.

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Correspondence to Roberto Paura .

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Paura, R. (2019). The Notion of Existential Risk and Its Role for the Anticipation of Technological Development’s Long-Term Impact. In: Poli, R., Valerio, M. (eds) Anticipation, Agency and Complexity. Anticipation Science, vol 4. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-03623-2_6

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