Beckstead Reprise Lecture Scheduled For 28 August

Due to popular demand, we are hosting a reprise of Nick Beckstead’s online lecture ‘On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future’. This lecture will also be recorded and posted online. There currently is space available for this – please email me to RSVP (seth [at]

Here is the full talk info (title & abstract are same as before):

On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future

Wednesday 28 August, 15:00 GMT (8:00 Los Angeles, 11:00 New York, 16:00 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.

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Seth Baum is Executive Director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute.
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