7th June 2019

Could the UN fight successfully existential risks?

Change happens at an exponential pace rather than linearly and not just in technology but in many other spheres of life, such as in social and political domains. What once took a decade, it can take just a year or two. At the same time, we live in a world that is exposed to at least 10 existential man-made risks, i.e. such risks over which we have control, rather than the risks stemming from other factors such as an asteroid hitting the earth, or super gamma wave radiation. Climate change, is one of such risks, but its not the most imminent or the highest in the pack. Today, it is still somewhere in the middle.

Within those risks, I would put the risk of Global Disorder, which may become existential when three risks: economic, political and social are triggered off simultaneously on a global scale. Capitalism and democracy are close to falling literally into an existential crisis. In this sense, the biggest risk that trumps all others is due to politicians’ failure to act decisively in the interest of humanity as a whole, thus potentially acting in some cases against the interest of their own nation. It is the extension of humans’ inability to act like a swarm of bees protecting a hive, rather than only protecting their own existence and thus endangering their own life as well as the life of all other individuals.

Let me illustrate that problem using the example of the risk of Superintelligence (Artificial General Intelligence – AGI), which is at the very top of existential risks and far more imminent than the climate change. More imminent existential risk is only a global natural or artificial pandemic. For example, an Ebola type virus but dispersed by air can happen at any time and in the worst case can wipe out about 95% of the world’s population.

Superintelligence, on the other hand, could eliminate 100% of humans after 2050. But within the next decade we will have to deal with what I would call Immature Superintelligence. We are already preparing for Cyber Wars carried out by some states. However, it is almost certain that by 2030 we shall have a number of large-scale crises created by ‘Cyber Wars’ initiated by malevolent AI agents, which could fire off nuclear weapons, open water reservoirs, or open the doors of biological laboratories breeding new viruses. In order to mitigate those risks we would need a global authority that would be able to act decisively and almost immediately on behalf of all of us, e.g. in case of untreatable global pandemics stopping all transport worldwide. Only the World Government would be capable of mitigating such risks but that of course will not happen, especially if we consider we have barely a decade for such an organization to be created.

If you think that the United Nations could play such a role then consider the war in Syria. Therefore, the answer to the question: ‘Could the UN fight successfully existential risks?’ is – No. But is there any alternative? I belive there is. Since we have no time to create such an organization from scratch, we can only hope that one of the existing organizations would step in. That should be our best hope. Currently, I can only see three such organizations. The first one is the federated EU, which of course does not exist yet, and many people feel it will itself collapse very shortly. The second one could be NATO with its expanded powers. Finally, the third one, as a default option could be …China.

It is obvious that if for example the Federal EU gets created and would take on such a role, it could only act on behalf of some part of Humanity, perhaps openly challenging Russia and China, which itself would be a risk. But at the moment only such a pseudo World Government, could at least partially mitigate existential risks. I would only give one example to the sceptics. It is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that the EU put in force in a very short time, and which today regulates all global data transfers and practically the whole Internet. So, it could be done.

Tony Czarnecki, Sustensis

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