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Extinction First

Even a tiny reduction in an existential risk has to come before any other public “good” – extinction causes the ends of all current and future lives

Bostrom 13 (Nick, University of Oxford, Feb 2013, “Existential Risk Prevention as Global Priority”, Global Policy, Vol. 4, Issue 1, Accessed 07.18.14)//LD

To calculate the loss associated with an existential catastrophe, we must consider how much value would come to exist in its absence. It turns out that the ultimate potential for Earth-originating intelligent life is literally astronomical. One gets a large number even if one confines one's consideration to the potential for biological human beings living on Earth. If we suppose with Parfit that our planet will remain habitable for at least another billion years, and we assume that at least one billion people could live on it sustainably, then the potential exist for at least 10^­16 human lives of normal duration. These lives could also be considerably better than the average contemporary human life, which is so often marred by disease, poverty, injustice, and various biological limitations that could be partly overcome through continuing technological and moral progress. However, the relevant figure is not how many people could live on Earth but how many descendants we could have in total. One lower bound of the number of biological human life-years in the future accessible universe (based on current cosmological estimates) is 10^34 years.7 Another estimate, which assumes that future minds will be mainly implemented in computational hardware instead of biological neuronal wetware, produces a lower bound of 10^54 human-brain-emulation subjective life-years (or 10^71 basic computational operations) (Bostrom, 2003).8 If we make the less conservative assumption that future civilisations could eventually press close to the absolute bounds of known physics (using some as yet unimagined technology), we get radically higher estimates of the amount of computation and memory storage that is achievable and thus of the number of years of subjective experience that could be realised.9 Even if we use the most conservative of these estimates, which entirely ignores the possibility of space colonisation and software minds, we find that the expected loss of an existential catastrophe is greater than the value of 10^16 human lives. This implies that the expected value of reducing existential risk by a mere one millionth of one percentage point is at least a hundred times the value of a million human lives. The more technologically comprehensive estimate of 1054 humanbrain-emulation subjective life-years (or 1052 lives of ordinary length) makes the same point even more starkly. Even if we give this allegedly lower bound on the cumulative output potential of a technologically mature civilisation a mere 1 per cent chance of being correct, we find that the expected value of reducing existential risk by a mere one billionth of one billionth of one percentage point is worth a hundred billion times as much as a billion human lives. One might consequently argue that even the tiniest reduction of existential risk has an expected value greater than that of the definite provision of any 'ordinary' good, such as the direct benefit of saving 1 billion lives. And, further, that the absolute value of the indirect effect of saving 1 billion lives on the total cumulative amount of existential risk—positive or negative—is almost certainly larger than the positive value of the direct benefit of such an action. Maxipok These considerations suggest that the loss in expected value resulting from an existential catastrophe is so enormous that the objective of reducing existential risks should be a dominant consideration whenever we act out of an impersonal concern for humankind as a whole. It may be useful to adopt the following rule of thumb for such impersonal moral action: Maxipok Maximise the probability of an 'OK outcome', where an OK outcome is any outcome that avoids existential catastrophe.


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