GCRI’s research is nonpartisan, non-ideological, transdisciplinary, and held to the highest academic standards. The research covers the breadth of GCR topics and welcomes contributions from any perspective. Researchers or other professionals who are interested in getting involved should contact Executive Director Seth Baum (seth [at] gcrinstitute.org).
Research questions of particular interest include:
- Which GCRs are the most likely to occur?
- How do multiple GCRs interact with each other?
- What ethical and other issues are raised by GCR?
- What are the most effective ways of reducing GCR?
Topics of Interest
GCRI is actively interested in a wide range of GCR research topics. For some of these topics, GCRI already has established lines of research. For other programs, GCRI is interested in developing research lines. The research topics fall into three broad themes:
Specific GCRs: Research focused on a single GCR. GCRI is especially interested in the GCRs considered to be most likely or otherwise important, including Emerging Technologies; Environmental Change; Financial Collapse; Governance Failure; Infectious Disease; and Nuclear War.
Cross-Cutting Topics: Research on topics that are relevant to multiple GCRs, including Astrobiology; Ethics; Law & Policy; Psychology & Communications; Religion; and Uncertainty.
Synthesis: Research oriented towards synthesizing insights from multiple specific GCRs and/or multiple cross-cutting topics, including Integrated Assessment; Interaction Effects; Research Priorities; and Response Options.
Here is additional information on each of the research topics:
Many forms of technology are changing rapidly, bringing the possibility of major disruptions to global civilization. GCRI is interested in the several possible emerging technologies that could play a role in global catastrophic risk, either by causing a catastrophe or by preventing other catastrophes. These technologies include artificial intelligence, molecular manufacturing (a form of nanotechnology), and biological engineering. GCRI’s emerging technologies research examines the processes in which the technologies could be developed, the impacts of the technologies, and options for regulation or otherwise reducing the risk.
Humanity activity now plays a dominant role in many global environmental processes, often with catastrophic consequences for human and ecological systems alike. Major global environmental change includes climate change, biodiversity loss, natural resource depletion, and disruptions to water, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycles. GCRI is interested in worst-case scenarios for global environmental change and the most effective means for reducing the risk. GCRI is interested in interventions such as public policy, individual behavior change, and geoengineering.
Financial markets play an important role in global civilization. Recent financial turbulence has shown that market difficulties can cause significant disruptions. GCRI is interested in worst-case scenarios for financial market collapse. GCRI is especially interested in scenarios that are significantly more catastrophic than the events of recent years. GCRI is interested in what would happen to the rest of civilization if markets were to collapse, what can be done now to prevent that from happening, and what can be done to reduce the fallout if it does happen.
Advanced human civilization may depend on effective governance. Too little governance can result in anarchy and failed states, while too much governance can result in totalitarianism. GCRI is interested in the various ways in which failures of governance can lead to global catastrophe. Of particular interest are scenarios in which the governance failure is permanent. For example, a global totalitarian regime may persist indefinitely in the absence of competition from other governments.
Infectious diseases can have global consequences whenever the diseases spread broadly across populations of humans or other important species such as those of key crops and livestock animals. GCRI is interested in worst-case scenarios for infectious disease outbreaks and options for reducing the risk. GCRI is interested in both natural and artificial disease outbreaks. Natural outbreaks are those occurring without any human intention. Artificial outbreaks are those that some humans intended to cause, such as due to terrorist activity.
While the Cold War has ended, enough nuclear weapons remain to cause global catastrophe if they are used in war. GCRI is interested in the possibility of nuclear war occurring, the impacts if it does occur, and the options available for reducing the overall risk. GCRI considers both intentional and inadvertent nuclear war. Intentional nuclear war occurs when two or more parties make a conscious decision to go to war based on accurate information about the state of the world. Inadvertent nuclear war occurs when one or more parties misinterprets a false alarm as being real and launches nuclear weapons in what it mistakenly believes is a counterattack.
Astrobiology is the study of life in the universe. GCRI is interested in the several ways in which astrobiology is relevant to GCR, including topics related to space exploration, the long-term fate of life on Earth, the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations, and the structure of the universe. GCRI’s astrobiology research is closely tied to the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science.
Global catastrophic risk raises many important ethical issues. GCRI is interested in exploring these issues from a variety of ethics perspectives. GCRI does not support any one specific ethical view but instead supports open discussion and debate about various ethical views and their implications for global catastrophic risk. Topics of particular interest include the definition of GCR, the prioritization of different GCRs and GCR response options, the importance of GCR relative to other societal issues, and the obligations that people today have to help reduce GCR.
Law & Policy
Global catastrophic risk raises many legal and policy issues. GCRI is interested in these issues as they arise both in theory and contemporary practice. Topics of interest include international and transnational regulatory regimes for managing global risks, the overall efficacy of legal and policy options for reducing GCR, and specific legal and policy options.
Psychology & Communications
Human minds play important roles in global catastrophic risk by perceiving, valuing, and communicating about GCR. GCRI is interested in the various ways in which the human mind matters for GCR. GCRI is interested in survey research exploring public perceptions about the severity of GCR and values about the importance of GCR. GCRI is also interested in GCR communications, drawing on insights from psychology, popular media, the arts, entertainment, and other areas. Finally, GCRI is interested in how to communicate the importance of GCR and how to engage the public to take effective action to reduce GCR.
Many religions have beliefs about global catastrophic risk, as seen in concepts such as eschatology and apocalypse. GCRI is interested in synthesizing the ideas of each religion with the ideas of secular risk analysis, forming a more holistic understanding of GCR. GCRI also seeks to understand the layout of contemporary religions groups that may be active on GCR, including groups seeking to decrease GCR and groups seeking to increase GCR. Finally, GCRI is interested in using religious scholarship as part of broader efforts to positively engage religious communities on GCR topics.
The concept of global catastrophic risk embeds the idea of uncertainty: a risk is a bad event whose occurrence is uncertain. GCRI is interested in several topics on the role of uncertainty in risk, with emphasis on those topics unique to GCR. Topics of particular interest include the use of expert opinion and handling uncertainty given the unprecedented nature of most global catastrophes.
Integrated assessment is the process of integrating ideas from multiple fields of study to yield insights that could not come from studying each field separately. GCRI is interested in the integrated assessment of major GCR topics such as the most likely GCRs and the most effective response options.
Some global catastrophic risks interact with each other. For example, nuclear war puts a lot of smoke into the atmosphere, cooling the planet in a form of climate change known as nuclear winter. Or, a major financial collapse could have secondary effects on other aspects of society. GCRI is interested in exploring the various ways in which different GCRs interact.
Global catastrophic risk is a complex subject with numerous opportunities for future research. Since there are more GCR research topics available to be studied than there are researchers who can study them, it is important to prioritize among research topics. Furthermore, some lines of research could themselves be considered risky, such as research on dangerous emerging technologies. GCRI is interested in helping formulate research priorities for a range of GCR research areas, including by drawing on ‘research about research’ topics including value of information theory and social studies of science.
A core question in the study of global catastrophic risk is what we can do in response to the risks. GCRI is interested in a range of response options, examining their efficacy at reducing GCR and any additional issues they raise. Of particular interest are those response options that may be most effective at reducing GCR and those options that have impacts on multiple different GCRs.