Immediate Risks

These are risks that may become existential within days or even in hours such as:

  1. Global nuclear war. A nuclear war between the US and Russia was the chief apocalyptic fear of the late 20th century. That threat may have reduced but, with proliferation of nuclear weapons, there is still a risk of a conflict serious enough to cause a “nuclear winter” as the smoke in the stratosphere shuts out sunlight for months. That could put an end to civilised life regardless of the bombs’ material impact.
  2. Weaponized AI, of which there are two types: Soft Weaponized AI, which uses software applications that achieve malicious objectives by usually compromising or blackmailing individuals through publication of documents, pictures or breaking into security systems, and Hard Weaponized AI that directs specialized weapons or equipment at a pre-planned target.
  3. Engineered pandemics and synthetic biology. Biotechnology can pose a global catastrophic risk in the form of natural pathogens or novel, engineered ones. Such a catastrophe may also be brought about by usage in warfare, terrorist attacks or by accident. The risks from biological warfare and bioterrorism are distinct from nuclear and chemical threats because biological pathogens are easier to mass-produce and their production is hard to control. A psychopathic scientist dispersing by air a laboratory-produced pathogen is the most frequently quoted scenario, which could destroy the entire Humanity in weeks.
  4. Nanotechnology and experimental technology accident. Nanotechnology would allow in principle to arrange atoms in any way we want. This risk would normally be considered progressive with its ultimate destructive towards mid-century at the earliest. However, some crude nanotechnology inventions produced in a similar way like editing genes using CRISP-9 technology could be delivered much earlier. The risk here is similar to synthetic biology.
  5. Unknown risks mainly technology-orientated. As technology progresses at an exponential rate, there could be entirely new inventions having some great benefits but at the same time also potentially destructive force.

Next: Progressive Risks