AIs with moral status and political rights? We'll need a modus vivendi, and it’s becoming urgent to figure out the parameters for that. This paper makes a load of specific claims that begin to stake out a position.
Book nearing completion. Hoping for publication spring 2024. Help pick the cover design with this 1 min survey.
Also done some recent work on the ethics of digital minds (two recent papers) and metaethics (working paper). Also worked with some colleagues on a paper (not yet published) with some ideas for overcoming technical challenges in detecting internal states of potential moral significance in LLMs. (One recent interview.)
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AIs with moral status and political rights? We'll need a modus vivendi, and it’s becoming urgent to figure out the parameters for that. This paper makes a load of specific claims that begin to stake out a position.
Humans are relatively expensive but absolutely cheap.
An analysis of the global desirability of different forms of openness (including source code, science, data, safety techniques, capabilities, and goals).
We present a heuristic for correcting for one kind of bias (status quo bias), which we suggest affects many of our judgments about the consequences of modifying human nature. We apply this heuristic to the case of cognitive enhancements, and argue that the consequentialist case for this is much stronger than commonly recognized.
Recounts the Tale of a most vicious Dragon that ate thousands of people every day, and of the actions that the King, the People, and an assembly of Dragonologists took with respect thereto.
Suns are illuminating and heating empty rooms, unused energy is being flushed down black holes, and our great common endowment of negentropy is being irreversibly degraded into entropy on a cosmic scale. These are resources that an advanced civilization could have used to create value-structures, such as sentient beings living worthwhile lives...
Cosmology shows that we might well be living in an infinite universe that contains infinitely many happy and sad people. Given some assumptions, aggregative ethics implies that such a world contains an infinite amount of positive value and an infinite amount of negative value. But you can presumably do only a finite amount of good or bad. Since an infinite cardinal quantity is unchanged by the addition or subtraction of a finite quantity, it looks as though you can't change the value of the world. Aggregative consequentialism (and many other important ethical theories) are threatened by total paralysis. We explore a variety of potential cures, and discover that none works perfectly and all have serious side-effects. Is aggregative ethics doomed?
In cases where several altruistic agents each have an opportunity to undertake some initiative, a phenomenon arises that is analogous to the winner's curse in auction theory. To combat this problem, we propose a principle of conformity. It has applications in technology policy and many other areas.
What properties should we want a proposal for an AI governance pathway to have?
Does human enhancement threaten our dignity as some have asserted? Or could our dignity perhaps be technologically enhanced? After disentangling several different concepts of dignity, this essay focuses on the idea of dignity as a quality (a kind of excellence admitting of degrees). The interactions between enhancement and dignity as a quality are complex and link into fundamental issues in ethics and value theory.
Brief paper, critiques a host of bioconservative pundits who believe that enhancing human capacities and extending human healthspan would undermine our dignity.
Original essays by various prominent moral philosophers on the ethics of human enhancement.
The introductory chapter from the book: 1–22
A transhumanist ethical framework for public policy regarding genetic enhancements, particularly human germ-line genetic engineering
Anthology chapter on the ethics of human enhancement
Overview of ethical issues raised by the possibility of creating intelligent machines. Questions relate both to ensuring such machines do not harm humans and to the moral status of the machines themselves.
Some cursory notes; not very in-depth.
Short article summarizing some of the key issues and offering specific recommendations, illustrating the opportunity and need for "smart policy": the integration into public policy of a broad-spectrum of approaches aimed at protecting and enhancing cognitive capacities and epistemic performance of individuals and institutions.
New theoretical ideas for a big expedition.
After some definitions and conceptual clarification, I argue for two theses. First, some posthuman modes of being would be extremely worthwhile. Second, it could be good for human beings to become posthuman.
The good life: just how good could it be? A vision of the future from the future.
The revised version 2.1. The document represents an effort to develop a broadly based consensus articulation of the basics of responsible transhumanism. Some one hundred people collaborated with me in creating this text. Feels like from another era.
Wonderful ways of being may be located in the "posthuman realm", but we can't reach them. If we enhance ourselves using technology, however, we can go out there and realize these values. This paper sketches a transhumanist axiology.
The human desire to acquire new capacities, to extend life and overcome obstacles to happiness is as ancient as the species itself. But transhumanism has emerged gradually as a distinctive outlook, with no one person being responsible for its present shape. Here's one account of how it happened.
Is there a level of technology at which civilization gets destroyed by default?
Discusses the Fermi paradox, and explains why I hope we find no signs of life, whether extinct or still thriving, on Mars or anywhere else we look.
Existential risks are those that threaten the entire future of humanity. This paper elaborates the concept of existential risk and its relation to basic issues in axiology and develops an improved classification scheme for such risks. It also describes some of the theoretical and practical challenges posed by various existential risks and suggests a new way of thinking about the ideal of sustainability.
Examines the risk from physics experiments and natural events to the local fabric of spacetime. Argues that the Brookhaven report overlooks an observation selection effect. Shows how this limitation can be overcome by using data on planet formation rates.
This paper discusses four families of scenarios for humanity’s future: extinction, recurrent collapse, plateau, and posthumanity.
Twenty-six leading experts look at the gravest risks facing humanity in the 21st century, including natural catastrophes, nuclear war, terrorism, global warming, biological weapons, totalitarianism, advanced nanotechnology, general artificial intelligence, and social collapse. The book also addresses overarching issues—policy responses and methods for predicting and managing catastrophes. Foreword by Lord Martin Rees.
This paper explores some dystopian scenarios where freewheeling evolutionary developments, while continuing to produce complex and intelligent forms of organization, lead to the gradual elimination of all forms of being worth caring about. We then discuss how such outcomes could be avoided and argue that under certain conditions the only possible remedy would be a globally coordinated effort to control human evolution by adopting social policies that modify the default fitness function of future life forms.
Technological revolutions are among the most important things that happen to humanity. This paper discusses some of the ethical and policy issues raised by anticipated technological revolutions, such as nanotechnology.
Existential risks are ways in which we could screw up badly and permanently. Remarkably, relatively little serious work has been done in this important area. The point, of course, is not to welter in doom and gloom but to better understand where the biggest dangers are so that we can develop strategies for reducing them.
Information hazards are risks that arise from the dissemination or the potential dissemination of true information that may cause harm or enable some agent to cause harm. Such hazards are often subtler than direct physical threats, and, as a consequence, are easily overlooked. They can, however, be important.
Concept describing a kind of social structure.
The embryo selection during IVF can be vastly potentiated when the technology for stem-cell derived gametes becomes available for use in humans. This would enable iterated embryo selection (IES), compressing the effective generation time in a selection program from decades to months.
Human beings are a marvel of evolved complexity. Such systems can be difficult to upgrade. We describe a heuristic for identifying and evaluating potential human enhancements, based on evolutionary considerations.
Presents two theses, the orthogonality thesis and the instrumental convergence thesis, that help understand the possible range of behavior of superintelligent agents—also pointing to some potential dangers in building such an agent.
A 130-page report on the technological prerequisites for whole brain emulation (aka "mind uploading").
Cognitive enhancements in the context of converging technologies.
Some new ideas related to the challenge of endowing a hypothetical future superintelligent AI with values that would cause it to act in ways that are beneficial. Paper is somewhat obscure.
Game theory model of a technology race to develop AI. Participants skimp on safety precautions to get there first. Analyzes factors that determine level of risk in the Nash equilibrium.
Preliminary survey of various issues related to the idea of using boxing methods to safely contain a superintelligent oracle AI.
Some polling data.
Cognitive enhancement comes in many diverse forms. In this paper, we survey the current state of the art in cognitive enhancement methods and consider their prospects for the near-term future. We then review some of ethical issues arising from these technologies. We conclude with a discussion of the challenges for public policy and regulation created by present and anticipated methods for cognitive enhancement.
This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching the posthuman stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run significant number of simulations or (variations) of their evolutionary history; (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the naïve transhumanist dogma that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.
We could have used the intervening years to prepare. Instead we mostly spent the time on the couch munching potato chips. Now there's some sense of alarm but unclear we can get ourselves into match shape in time.
“I highly recommend this book.”—Bill Gates
“very deep … every paragraph has like six ideas embedded within it.”—Nate Silver
“terribly important … groundbreaking” “extraordinary sagacity and clarity, enabling him to combine his wide-ranging knowledge over an impressively broad spectrum of disciplines – engineering, natural sciences, medicine, social sciences and philosophy – into a comprehensible whole” “If this book gets the reception that it deserves, it may turn out the most important alarm bell since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring from 1962, or ever.”—Olle Haggstrom, Professor of Mathematical Statistics
“Nick Bostrom makes a persuasive case that the future impact of AI is perhaps the most important issue the human race has ever faced. … It marks the beginning of a new era.”—Stuart Russell, Professor of Computer Science, University of California, Berkeley
“Those disposed to dismiss an 'AI takeover' as science fiction may think again after reading this original and well-argued book.” —Martin Rees, Past President, Royal Society
“Worth reading…. We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes”—Elon Musk
“There is no doubting the force of [Bostrom's] arguments … the problem is a research challenge worthy of the next generation's best mathematical talent. Human civilisation is at stake.” —Financial Times
“This superb analysis by one of the world's clearest thinkers tackles one of humanity's greatest challenges: if future superhuman artificial intelligence becomes the biggest event in human history, then how can we ensure that it doesn't become the last?” —Professor Max Tegmark, MIT
“a damn hard read” —The Telegraph
Failure to consider observation selection effects result in a kind of bias that infest many branches of science and philosophy. This book presented the first mathematical theory for how to correct for these biases. It also discusses some implications for cosmology, evolutionary biology, game theory, the foundations of quantum mechanics, the Doomsday argument, the Sleeping Beauty problem, the search for extraterrestrial life, the question of whether God exists, and traffic planning.
Current cosmological theories say that the world is so big that all possible observations are in fact made. But then, how can such theories be tested? What could count as negative evidence? To answer that, we need to consider observation selection effects.
Summary of some of the difficulties that a theory of observation selection effects faces and sketch of a solution.
"Anthropic shadow" is an observation selection effect that prevents observers from observing certain kinds of catastrophes in their recent geological and evolutionary past. We risk underestimating the risk of catastrophe types that lie in this shadow.
An advanced Introduction to observation selection theory and its application to the cosmological fine-tuning problem.
Argues against Olum and the Self-Indication Assumption.
Have Korb and Oliver refuted the doomsday argument? No.
On the Doomsday argument and related paradoxes.
The Doomsday argument purports to prove, from basic probability theory and a few seemingly innocuous empirical premises, that the risk that our species will go extinct soon is much greater than previously thought. My view is that the Doomsday argument is inconclusive—although not for any trivial reason. In my book, I argued that a theory of observation selection effects is needed to explain where it goes wrong.
The Sleeping Beauty problem is an important test stone for theories about self-locating belief. I argue against both the traditional views on this problem and propose a new synthetic approach.
Argues against George Sower's refutation of the doomsday argument, and outlines what I think is the real flaw.
When driving on the motorway, have you ever wondered about (and cursed!) the fact that cars in the other lane seem to be getting ahead faster than you? One might be tempted to account for this by invoking Murphy's Law ("If anything can go wrong, it will", discovered by Edward A. Murphy, Jr, in 1949). But there is an alternative explanation, based on observational selection effects…
A paradoxical thought experiment
Examines the implications of recent evidence for a cosmological constant for the prospects of indefinite information processing in the multiverse. Co-authored with Milan M. Cirkovic.
If two brains are in identical states, are there two numerically distinct phenomenal experiences or only one? Two, I argue. But what happens in intermediary cases? This paper looks in detail at this question and suggests that there can be a fractional (non-integer) number of qualitatively identical experiences. This has implications for what it is to implement a computation and for Chalmer's Fading Qualia thought experiment.
A self-undermining variant of the Newcomb problem.
Finite version of Pascal's Wager.
Nick Bostrom is a Swedish-born philosopher with a background in theoretical physics, computational neuroscience, logic, and artificial intelligence, along with philosophy. He is the most-cited professional philosopher in the world aged 50 or under.
He is a Professor at Oxford University, where he heads the Future of Humanity Institute as its founding director. He is the author of some 200 publications, including Anthropic Bias (2002), Global Catastrophic Risks (2008), Human Enhancement (2009), and Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (2014), a New York Times bestseller which helped spark a global conversation about the future of AI. His work has pioneered some of the ideas that frame current thinking about humanity’s future (such as the concept of an existential risk, the simulation argument, the vulnerable world hypothesis, the unilateralist’s curse, etc.), while some of his recent work concerns the moral status of digital minds.
His writings have been translated into more than 30 languages; he is a repeat main-stage TED speaker; and he has been interviewed more than 1,000 times by media outlets around the world. He has been on Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers list twice and was included in Prospect’s World Thinkers list, the youngest person in the top 15. As a graduate student he dabbled in stand-up comedy on the London circuit.
My research interests might on the surface appear scattershot, but they share a single aim, which is to better understand what I refer to as our “macrostrategic situation”: the larger context in which human civilization exists, and in particular how our current choices relate to ultimate outcomes or to important values. Basically, I think we are fairly profoundly in the dark on these matters. We are like ants who are busy building an ant hill but with little notion of what they are doing, why they are doing it, or whether in the final reckoning it will have been a good idea to do it.
I’ve now been alive long enough to have seen a significant shift in attitudes to these questions. Back in the 90s, they were generally regarded as discreditable futurism or science fiction - certainly within academia. They were left to a small set of “people on the Internet”, who were at that time starting to think through the implications of future advances in AI and other technologies, and what these might mean for human society. It seemed to me that the questions were important and deserved more systematic exploration. That’s why I founded the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University in 2005. FHI brought together an interdisciplinary bunch of brilliant (and eccentric!) minds, and sought to shield them as much as possible from the pressures of regular career academia; and thus were laid the foundations for exciting new fields of study.
Those were heady years. FHI was a unique place - extremely intellectually alive and creative - and remarkable progress was made. FHI was also quite fertile, spawning a number of academic offshoots, nonprofits, and foundations. It helped incubate the AI safety research field, the existential risk and rationalist communities, and the effective altruism movement. Ideas and concepts born within this small research center have since spread far and wide, and many of its alumni have gone on to important positions in other institutions.
Today, there is a much broader base of support for the kind of work that FHI was set up to enable, and it has basically served out its purpose. (The local faculty administrative bureaucracy has also become increasingly stifling.) I think those who were there during its heyday will remember it fondly. I feel privileged to have been a part of it and to have worked with the many remarkable individuals who flocked around it.
As for my own research, this webpage itself is perhaps its best summary. Aside from my work related to artificial intelligence (on safety, ethics, and strategic implications), I have also originated or contributed to the development of ideas such as simulation argument, existential risk, transhumanism, information hazards, astronomical waste, crucial considerations, observation selection effects in cosmology and other contexts of self-locating belief, anthropic shadow, the unilateralist’s curse, the parliamentary model of decision-making under normative uncertainty, the notion of a singleton, the vulnerable world hypothesis, alongside analyses of future technological capabilities and concomitant ethical issues, risks, and opportunities. More recently, I’ve been doing work on the moral and political status of digital minds, and on some issues in metaethics. I also have a book manuscript, many years in the making, which is now complete and which will be published in the spring of 2024.
I’ve noticed that misconceptions are sometimes formed by people who’ve only read some bits of my work. For instance, that I’m a gung-ho cheerleading transhumanist, or that I’m anti-AI, or that I’m some sort of consequentialist fanatic who would favor any policy purported to mitigate some existential risk. I suspect the cause of such errors is that many of my papers investigate particular aspects of some complex issue, or trace out the implications that would follow from some particular set of assumptions. This is an analytic strategy: carve out parts of a problem where one can see how to make intellectual progress, make that progress, and then return to see if one can find ways to make additional parts tractable. My actual overall views on the challenges confronting us are far more nuanced, complicated, and tentative. This has always been the case, and it has become even more so as I’ve mellowed with age. But I’ve never been temperamentally inclined towards strong ideological positions or indeed “-ism”s of any kind.
For non-academic enquiries and media, please contact my Executive Assistant Emily Campbell:
Press images: this page
If you need to contact me directly (I regret I am not always able to respond to emails):
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simulation-argument.com—Devoted to the question, "Are you living in a computer simulation?"
www.fhi.ox.ac.uk—Future of Humanity Institute
www.anthropic-principle.com—Papers on observational selection effects
www.existential-risk.org—Human extinction scenarios and related concerns
ON THE BANK
On the bank at the end
Of what was there before us
Gazing over to the other side
On what we can become
Veiled in the mist of naïve speculation
We are busy here preparing
Rafts to carry us across
Before the light goes out leaving us
In the eternal night of could-have-been
AI safety, AI policy, and digital minds.
Professor Nick Bostrom chats about the vulnerable world hypothesis with Chris Anderson.
On anthropic selection theory and the simulation argument.
Discussion on the simulation argument with Lex Fridman.
My second TED talk
How do we know if we are headed in the right direction?
A long-form feature profile of me, by Raffi Khatchadourian.
Long article by Ross Andersen about the work of the Future of Humanity Institute
Interview for the meta-charity 80,000 Hours on how to make a maximally positive impact on the world for people contemplating an academic career trajectory
15-minute audio interview explaining the simulation argument.
15-minute interview about status quo bias in bioethics, and the "reversal test" by which such bias might be cured.
Summarizing some of the key issues and offering policy recommendations for a "smart policy" on biomedical methods of enhancing cognitive performance.
Those who seek the advancement of science should focus more on scientific research that facilitates further research across a wide range of domains—particularly cognitive enhancement.
In response to the call for evidence for the UK government's 2020 Integrated Review.
Short letter to the editor on obstacles to the development of better cognitive enhancement drugs.
A blog post draft.
Fictional interview of an uploaded dog by Larry King.
A poetry cycle… in Swedish, unfortunately. I stopped writing poetry after this, although I've had a few relapses in the English language.
Imaginary dialogue, set in the year 2050, in which three pundits debate the big issues of their time
According to Francis Fukuyama, yes. This is my response.
Review of Kwame Anthony Appiah's book "Experiments in Ethics".
This paper, now a few years old, examines how likely it might be that we will develop superhuman artificial intelligence within the first third of this century.
This slightly more recent (but still obsolete) article briefly reviews the argument set out in the previous one, and notes four immediate consequences of human-level machine intelligence.
Response to 2008 Edge Question: "What have you changed your mind about?"
Response to 2009 Edge Question: "What will change everything?"
Response to 2010 Edge Question: "How is the Internet changing the way you think?"
Response to 2011 Edge Question: "What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?"