FUTURE OF LIFE INSTITUTE


 

STATE OF AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, THE MILITARY AND INCREASINGLY AUTONOMOUS WEAPONS

As artificial intelligence works its way into industries like healthcare and finance, governments around the world are increasingly investing in another of its applications: autonomous weapons systems. Many are already developing programs and technologies that they hope will give them an edge over their adversaries, creating mounting pressure for others to follow suite.

WOMEN FOR THE FUTURE

This Women’s History Month, FLI has been celebrating with Women for the Future, a campaign to honor the women who’ve made it their job to create a better world for us all. The field of existential risk mitigation is largely male-dominated, so we wanted to emphasize the value — and necessity — of female voices in our industry. We profiled 34 women we admire, and got their takes on what they love (and don’t love) about their jobs, what advice they’d give women starting out in their fields, and what makes them hopeful for the future.

GENOME EDITING AND THE FUTURE OF BIOWARFARE: A CONVERSATION WITH DR. PIERS MILLETT

In both 2016 and 2017, genome editing made it into the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community. (Update: it was also listed in the 2019 Threat Assessment.) One of biotechnology’s most promising modern developments, it had now been deemed a danger to US national security – and then, after two years, it was dropped from the list again. All of which raises the question: what, exactly, is genome editing, and what can it do? 

AS OCEAN ACIDIFICATION INCREASES, OCEAN BIODIVERSITY MAY DECLINE

Dubbed “the evil twin of global warming,” ocean acidification is a growing crisis that poses a threat to both water-dwelling species and human communities that rely on the ocean for food and livelihood.

Since pre-industrial times, the ocean’s pH has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1—a change that may seem insignificant, but actually represents a 30 percent increase in acidity. As the threat continues to mount, the German research project  BIOACID (Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification) seeks to provide a better understanding of the phenomenon by studying its effects around the world.

CAN GLOBAL WARMING STAY BELOW 1.5 DEGREES? VIEWS DIFFER AMONG CLIMATE SCIENTISTS

The Paris Climate Agreement seeks to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial temperatures. In the best case scenario, warming would go no further than 1.5 degrees.

Many scientists see this as an impossible goal. A recent study by Peter Cox et al. postulates that, given a twofold increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, there is only a 3% chance of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees.

But a study by Richard Millar et al. provides more reason for hope. 

UNDERSTANDING THE RISKS AND LIMITATIONS OF NORTH KOREA'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM

Late last month, North Korea launched a ballistic missile test whose trajectory arced over Japan. And this past weekend, Pyongyang flaunted its nuclear capabilities with an underground test of what it claims was a hydrogen bomb: a more complicated — and powerful — alternative to the atomic bombs it has previously tested.

Though North Korea has launched rockets over its eastern neighbor twice before — in 1998 and 2009 — those previous launches carried satellites, not warheads. And the reasoning behind those two previous launches was seemingly innocuous: eastern-directed launches use the earth’s spin to most effectively put a satellite in orbit.


 

Dr. Matthew Meselson Wins 2019 Future of Life Award

On April 9th, Dr. Matthew Meselson received the $50,000 Future of Life Award at a ceremony at the University of Boulder’s Conference on World Affairs. Dr. Meselson was a driving force behind the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, an international ban that has prevented one of the most inhumane forms of warfare known to humanity.

The Breakdown of the INF Treaty

The INF treaty, which went into effect in 1988, was the first nuclear agreement to outlaw an entire class of weapons. It banned all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles — nuclear, conventional, and “exotic”— with a range of 500 km to 5500 km (310 to 3400 miles), leading to the immediate elimination of 2,692 short- and medium-range weapons. But more than that, the treaty served as a turning point that helped thaw the icy stalemate between the U.S. and Russia. Ultimately, the trust that it fostered established a framework for future treaties and, in this way, played a critical part in ending the Cold War.

Now, all of that may be undone.