Global Catastrophic Risks – Jamais Cascio

Cyborg Jamais CascioPart of the 2015 interview Jamais Cascio focused on the Global Catastrhopic Risks, Existential Risks and empathy.  It was both fun and serious.
Transcript: We are surrounded by catastrophic existential risks – you know, personally, societally, civilizationally. The intriguing thing about them is that the chance of any one of the happening is extremely slim. So very low likelihood, very significant results. Yet there is a non-zero chance that at the end of this sentence a meteor will come down and strike me in the head. It didn’t happen, but it could – there is no physical reason why it wouldn’t and given enough time eventually something will happen.
So we face – We are dealing with existential risks, catastrophic, globally & civilizationally catastrophic risks all the time and it’s easy to ignore them. The problem – the dilemma – is when you have a slight uptake in the the likelihood of a catastrophic risk.
NASA has a risk scale for the likelihood of an asteroid impact that would and the damage that it would produce – we’ve never gotten above essentially a level 1 risk – out of 10 – at least since they started taking measurements. There has been a couple of times when the likelihood of this happening has gotten up to – I think the highest we ever got was a temporary 4 – but were pretty likely that this level of risk isn’t going to be maintained. But we have these metrics of deciding – ok these risks are plausible – how can we contextualize them? So we do that with telling stories.
We deal with catastrophic risks by creating mythologies – and what the mythologies do – mythologies here count as making movies or writing novels or engaging in speculative conversations.. and playing with toys.
We craft the mythologies as a way of understanding how these catastrophic events could play out, and more importantly, how humans respond to catastrophe.
So you know, recently there was a movie called “San Andreas” starring ‘The Rock’ – scientifically terrible – but ultimately it was a story about ‘how do humans respond to seeing each other in mortal terror? in mortal peril?’ and ‘how do we try to help each other?’ – and that I think becomes a really important ‘pedagogy of catastrophe’. It’s not about understanding the details of every possible dooms day scenario – it’s about understanding what our options are for helping each other afterwards, or helping each other avoid the catastrophe. And – I think all to often, especially the world of science/scifi/foresight, there’s kind of a dismissal of those kinds of ‘soft narratives’ “they’re not scientifically accurate therefore we can ignore them”. But I think we ignore them at our peril – because those are the stories that we viscerally, we as a human society viscerally respond to. We are driven by emotion, we are driven by empathy – and intelligence a way of contextualizing why we feel things – what our relationship is to things that we have emotional connections with. Allowing us to continue to have – our intelligence allows us to continue to have and maintain persistent emotional connections.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really come to recognise the power of empathy, and how critical emotional connection is to building a viable future. We are as futurists all too often fascinated by tools – fascinated by gadgets and technologies – because they’re understandable, they’re quantifiable, they’re profitable. And we don’t pay enough attention to the feelings that surround us…Jamais Cascio

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really come to recognise the power of empathy, and how critical emotional connection is to building a viable future. We are as futurists all too often fascinated by tools – fascinated by gadgets and technologies – because they’re understandable, they’re quantifiable, they’re profitable. And we don’t pay enough attention to the feelings that surround us – whether we are talking politics or gender relations or all different kinds of things that are squishier, much more political, much harder to forecast – they’re harder to forecast because we shy away from them. We forget that these are the things that drive most of our behaviour – the desire to be liked, a desire to be wanted, a desire to be heard, a desire to connect.


Thought it was worth adding Jamais Cascio’s Eschatological Taxonomy poster

Eschatology: (noun) The study of the end of the world.
Taxonomy: (noun) A classification in a hierarchical system.

Exchatological Taxonomy - Global Catastrophic Risks taxB

What do we mean when we talk about the “end of the world?” It’s a term that get thrown around a bit too often among a variety of futurist-types, whether talking about global warming, nanofabrication, or non-friendly artificial intelligence. “Existential risks” is the lingo-du jour, referring to the broad panoply of processes, technologies and events that put our existence at risk. But, still, what does that mean? The destruction of the Earth? The end of humankind? A “Mad Max” world of leather-clad warriors, feral kids, and armed fashion models? All are frightening and horrific, but some are moreso than others. How do we tell them apart? Here, then, is a first pass at a classification system for the varying types of “end of the world” scenarios. Jamais Cascio


jamais cascio solar flare-274x155Cascio’s talk at BAASICS – Ready or Not (Doomsday talk in San Francisco, June 2012) – “I spoke at an event in San Francisco for a group called “BAASICS” (Bay Area Art & Science Interactive Collaborative Sessions). My talk — on the end of the world, and why it matters — was fairly brief (under 12 minutes), but reasonably fun….Highlights include old favorites the Eschatological Taxonomy, Legacy Futures, and the Singularity!”

Cascio gave the closing talk at GCR08, a Mountain View conference on Global Catastrophic Risks. Titled “Uncertainty, Complexity and Taking Action,” the discussion focused on the challenges inherent in planning against future disasters emerging as the result of global-scale change:



DOOM!!! Jamais Cascio juggles conceptual risk whilst avoiding being struck by stray metaphorical meteors.

Longevity & the Future of Fun with Jamais Cascio

I asked Jamais Cascio about The Hedonistic Imperative & longevity as part of my interview with him, and got some interesting responses

Cascio warns about wireheading* – Jamais urges cautious about changing cognitive systems to increase pleasure because we may lack a sufficient understanding of the 2nd or 3rd order effects – which isn’t to say that we should never ever do it.  Though he is usually not someone to jump at a chance to apply the precautionary principle, he thinks this is one case that warrants it.


Longevity may increase peoples tendency to be thoughtful about the future – imagine a decade to think about the ramifications of a certain action (or inaction).

If we have more ability to think about the consequences of our actions, we have a greater ability not just to see the future, but to see ourselves in the future.

Since we evolved to think about our immediate relations, we are somewhat selfish – living a long time might cause us to be more concerned about the future and those in it.

I believe that one of the benefits of radical life-extension will be the radical expansion of our sense of time – our presence in time.

Jamais Cascio on Life Extension & the Hedonistic Imperative.00_01_02_11.Still008

*Note, it should be clear that Wireheading isn’t the same as re-calibration of the hedonic treadmil that David Pearce advocates. See this interview with David Pearce on the subject of wireheading for more details.

Source: Wonder Workshop

Source: Wonder Workshop

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