The Precipice

by Toby Ord · read August 10, 2022


This book is an investigation into the likelihood that humanity experiences an existential catastrophe in the next century. Ord argues that our power is growing faster than our wisdom, and that the 'defining challenge of our time' is to safeguard humanity's potential from collapse or extinction in the face of risks like asteroids, nuclear weapons, climate change, pandemics, and unaligned artificial intelligence.

Ord examines a wide array of risks rigorously, which was a bit dense/dry to a casual reader like me, but obviously of scholarly value. Overall, I think the book makes a compelling case for taking these risks seriously and rising to the challenge of devoting significant resources to mitigating them. The most interesting section for me was 'anthropogenic risks', especially learning more about the history of nuclear weapons and warfare, and the introductory chapters outlining the stakes and philosophical underpinnings of the book's project.

In the months after my daughter was born, the magnitude of everything my parents did for me was fully revealed. I was shocked. I told them; thanked them; apologized for the impossibility of repaying them. And they smiled, telling me that this wasn’t how it worked—that one doesn't repay one's parents. One passes it on.

Julia Cooke © 2022