Nick Beckstead To Deliver Online Lecture On Ethics of Far Future 15 August

This is the pre-event announcement for an online lecture by Nick Beckstead, a Research Fellow at the Oxford University Future of Humanity Institute.

Here is the full talk info:

On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future
Thursday 15 August, 16:00 GMT (9:00 Los Angeles, 12:00 New York, 17:00 London)
To be held online via Skype. RSVP required by email to Seth Baum (seth [at] Space is limited.

The lecture is based on Beckstead’s recent PhD dissertation of the same title.


In this talk I will argue for two claims. The Main Claim is: As a rough generalization, when seeking policies or projects with the potential to have large expected positive impact, the expected impact of a policy or project is primarily a function of that project or policy’s expected effects the very long-term trajectory of civilization. The basic argument for this Main Claim depends on the further claims that civilization has a reasonable probability of eventually becoming very large, very good, and/or lasting a very long time, and if this is possible then the possibility is so important that my Main Claim is true. The Secondary Claim is: If the Main Claim is true, it significantly changes how we should evaluate projects and policies which aim to have a large expected positive impact. I will defend this Secondary Claim more tentatively because I believe it is less robustly supported than the Main Claim.

In the remaining time I will discuss objections to the arguments and claims presented; which specific topics I discuss will be determined by audience preference. Some possible objections which we could discuss include: the objection that very long-term considerations are largely irrelevant because we should primarily care about the interests of people alive today, the objection that very long-term considerations are much less relevant than I claim because future generations have significantly diminishing marginal value, the objection that proper use of discount rates makes very long-term considerations largely irrelevant, the objection that relying on arguments like this is akin to accepting something like Pascal’s Wager because the probability of changing the very long-term future is small and hard to estimate, and the objection that we are generally so bad at thinking about very long-term considerations that it would be better if we generally continued to focus on short-term and medium-term considerations.

Tagged with
This post was written by
Seth Baum is Executive Director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute.