Nick Bostrom

Nick Bostrom's Home Page

Professor, Faculty of Philosophy & Oxford Martin School
Director, Future of Humanity Institute
Director, Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology
University of Oxford
OCTOBER 2014
Completed U. S. book tour. [Book updates: tops Financial Time's science summer reading list] [Added #2: getting widely reviewedFinancial Times, Guardian, The Economist, etc.] [Added #3: Eight translations in the works; also audiobook edition.] [Added #4: cracks New York Times bestseller list.]

In other news: small paper on embryo selection for cognitive enhancement published in Global Policy; and tech report presenting a model of an AI technology race, in which participants skimp on safety to get there first, with the unfortunate result that a high level of risk is accepted in the Nash equilibrium. Working on a paper about crucial considerations. Landed in the top 15 of Prospect magazine's World Thinkers list.
 
SOME RECENT ADDITIONS
The Unilateralist's Curse: The Case for a Principle of Conformity, working paper, w/ Anders Sandberg & Tom Douglas
A Patch for the Simulation Argument. w/ Marcin Kulczycki, in Analysis
Anthropic Shadow: Observation Selection Effects and Existential Risks. w/ Milan Cirkovic & Anders Sandberg, in Risk Analysis
 
BOOK TOUR
  Washington, DC Noblis Sept 3: 12:00 Noon
  Boston, MA FLI and Harvard Effective Altruism Sept 4: 8:00 PM
  Chicago, IL Chicago Council on Science and Technology Sept 8: 6:00 PM
  Seattle, WA Microsoft Research Lab Sept 9: 1:30 PM
  Seattle, WA Town Hall Seattle Sept 9: 6:00 PM
  Mountain View, CA Google Headquarters Sept 11: 1:00 PM
  Berkeley, CA Machine Intelligence Research Institute Sept 12: 7:00 PM


Events in the UK and Germany

  London Google Sept 23: 1:30 PM
  Cologne, Germany Cologne Conference Futures

Oct 6-7: TBA

  Cheltenham, UK Cheltenham Book Festival Oct 11: 5:15 PM
  Oxford, UK Oxford Martin School Oct 13: 5:00 PM

To schedule an interview or meeting, please contact Lamprini Repouliou.
 
Selected papers

ETHICS & POLICY

dragonThe Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant
Recounts the Tale of a most vicious Dragon that ate thousands of people every day, and of the actions that the King, the People, and an assembly of Dragonologists took with respect thereto. [J Med Ethics, Vol. 31, No. 5 (2005): 273-277] [translations: German, Hebrew, Finnish, Spanish, French, Italian, Slovenian, Dutch, Russian] [html] [pdf] [mp3]
The Reversal Test: Eliminating Status Quo Bias in Applied Ethics star
We present a heuristic for correcting for one kind of bias (status quo bias), which we suggest affects many of our judgments about the consequences of modifying human nature. We apply this heuristic to the case of cognitive enhancements, and argue that the consequentialist case for this is much stronger than commonly recognized. (w/ Toby Ord) [Ethics, Vol. 116, No. 4 (2006): 656-680] [pdf]

Astronomical Waste: The Opportunity Cost of Delayed Technological Development Suns are illuminating and heating empty rooms, unused energy is being flushed down black holes, and our great common endowment of negentropy is being irreversibly degraded into entropy on a cosmic scale. These are resources that an advanced civilization could have used to create value-structures, such as sentient beings living worthwhile lives... [Utilitas, Vol. 15, No. 3 (2003): 308-314] [translation: Russian] [html] [pdf]

aleph Infinite Ethics star
Cosmology shows that we might well be living in an infinite universe that contains infinitely many happy and sad people. Given some assumptions, aggregative ethics implies that such a world contains an infinite amount of positive value and an infinite amount of negative value. But you can presumably do only a finite amount of good or bad. Since an infinite cardinal quantity is unchanged by the addition or subtraction of a finite quantity, it looks as though you can't change the value of the world. Aggregative consequentialism (and many other important ethical theories) are threatened by total paralysis. We explore a variety of potential cures, and discover that none works perfectly and all have serious side-effects. Is aggregative ethics doomed? [Analysis and Metaphysics, Vol. 10 (2011): 9-59] [Original draft was available in 2003. One journal reviewed the manuscript for nearly two years before determining that it was too long.  No need to wonder philosophy why has not advanced further in three paltry millenia.] [html] [pdf]
The Unilateralist's Curse: The Case for a Principle of Conformity
In cases where several altruistic agents each have an opportunity to undertake some initiative, a phenomenon arises that is analogous to the winner's curse in auction theory. To combat this problem, we propose a principle of conformity. It has applications in technology policy and many other areas. [Working paper (2013) [w/ Anders Sandberg & Tom Douglas] [pdf]
Dignity and Enhancement
Does human enhancement threaten our dignity as some have asserted? Or could our dignity perhaps be technologically enhanced? After disentangling several different concepts of dignity, this essay focuses on the idea of dignity as a quality (a kind of excellence admitting of degrees). The interactions between enhancement and dignity as a quality are complex and link into fundamental issues in ethics and value theory. [In Human Dignity and Bioethics:  Essays Commissioned by the President’s Council on Bioethics (Washington, D.C., 2008): 173-207] [pdf]
In Defense of Posthuman Dignity
Brief paper, critiques a host of bioconservative pundits who believe that enhancing human capacities and extending human healthspan would undermine our dignity. [Bioethics, Vol. 19, No. 3 (2005): 202-214] [translations: Italian, Slovenian, Portugese] [Was chosen for inclusion in a special anthology of the best papers published in this journal in the past two decades] [html] [pdf]

enhancement bookHuman Enhancement Original essays by various prominent moral philosophers on the ethics of human enhancement. [Eds. Nick Bostrom & Julian Savulescu (Oxford University Press, 2009)].

Enhancement Ethics: The State of the Debate The introductory chapter from the book (w/ Julian Savulescu): 1-22 [pdf]

 

Human Genetic Enhancements: A Transhumanist Perspective
A transhumanist ethical framework for public policy regarding genetic enhancements, particularly human germ-line genetic engineering [Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 37, No. 4 (2003): 493-506] [html] [pdf]
Ethical Issues in Human Enhancement
Anthology chapter on the ethics of human enhancement [In New Waves in Applied Ethics, ed. Jesper Ryberg et al. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008): 120-152] [w/ Rebecca Roache] [html] [pdf]
The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence
Overview of ethical issues raised by the possibility of creating intelligent machines. Questions relate both to ensuring such machines do not harm humans and to the moral status of the machines themselves. [In Cambridge Handbook of Artificial Intelligence, eds. William Ramsey & Keith Frankish (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming)] [w/ Eliezer Yudkowsky] [pdf] [translation: Portugese]
Ethical Issues In Advanced Artificial Intelligence
Some cursory notes; not very in-depth. [Cognitive, Emotive and Ethical Aspects of Decision Making in Humans and in Artificial Intelligence, Vol. 2, ed. I. Smit et al., Int. Institute of Advanced Studies in Systems Research and Cybernetics, 2003, 12-17] [html] [pdf] [translations: Italian]
Smart Policy: Cognitive Enhancement and the Public Interest
Short article summarizing some of the key issues and offering specific recommendations, illustrating the opportunity and need for "smart policy": the integration into public policy of a broad-spectrum of approaches aimed at protecting and enhancing cognitive capacities and epistemic performance of individuals and institutions. [Enhancing Human Capacities, eds. J. Savulescu, R, ter Muelen, and G. Kahane (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)] [w/ Rebecca Roache] [pdf]
Recent Developments in the Ethics, Science, and Politics of Life-Extension
A review/commentary on The Fountain of Youth (OUP, 2004). [Aging Horizons, No. 3 (2005): 28-34] [html] [pdf]

 

TRANSHUMANISM

utopiaLetter from Utopia star
The good life: just how good could it be? A vision of the future from the future. [Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2008): 1-7] [pdf is an improved version (2010), in Nexus Journal] [translations: French, Italian, Spanish] [html] [pdf] [mp3]
Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up
After some definitions and conceptual clarification, I argue for two theses. First, some posthuman modes of being would be extremely worthwhile. Second, it could be good for human beings to become posthuman. [Medical Enhancement and Posthumanity, eds. Bert Gordijn and Ruth Chadwick (Springer, 2008): 107-137] [pdf]
The Transhumanist FAQ
The revised version 2.1. The document represents an effort to develop a broadly based consensus articulation of the basics of responsible transhumanism. Some one hundred people collaborated with me in creating this text. [translations: German, Hungarian, Dutch, Russian, Polish, Finnish, Greek, Italian] [pdf]

Transhumanist Values Wonderful ways of being may be located in the "posthuman realm", but we can't reach them. If we enhance ourselves using technology, however, we can go out there and realize these values. This paper sketches a transhumanist axiology. [Ethical Issues for the 21st Century, ed. Frederick Adams, Philosophical Documentation Center Press, 2003; reprinted in Review of Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. 4, May (2005)] [translations: Polish, Portugese] [html] [pdf]

A History of Transhumanist Thought
The human desire to acquire new capacities, to extend life and overcome obstacles to happiness is as ancient as the species itself. But transhumanism has emerged gradually as a distinctive outlook, with no one person being responsible for its present shape. Here's one account of how it happened. [Journal of Evolution and Technology, Vol.14, No. 1 (2005) [translation: Spanish] [pdf]

RISK & THE FUTURE

Where Are They? Why I hope the search for extraterrestrial life finds nothing star
Discusses the Fermi paradox, and explains why I hope we find no signs of life, whether extinct or still thriving, on Mars or anywhere else we look. [Technology Review, May/June issue (2008): 72-77] [pdf] [translations: Italian]
Existential Risk Reduction as Global Prioritystar
Existential risks are those that threaten the entire future of humanity. This paper elaborates the concept of existential risk and its relation to basic issues in axiology and develops an improved classification scheme for such risks. It also describes some of the theoretical and practical challenges posed by various existential risks and suggests a new way of thinking about the ideal of sustainability. [Global Policy, Vol. 4, No. 3 (2013): 15-31] [translations: Portugese] [html] [pdf]
How Unlikely is a Doomsday Catastrophe?
Examines the risk from physics experiments and natural events to the local fabric of spacetime. Argues that the Brookhaven report overlooks an observation selection effect. Shows how this limitation can be overcome by using data on planet formation rates. [w/ Max Tegmark] [expanded; Nature, Vol. 438 (2005): 754] [translations: Russian] [pdf]
The Future of Humanity
This paper discusses four families of scenarios for humanity’s future: extinction, recurrent collapse, plateau, and posthumanity. [In New Waves in Philosophy of Technology, eds. Jan-Kyrre Berg Olsen, Evan Selinger & Soren Riis (Palgrave McMillan, 2009) [pdf] [html]

global catastrophic risk bookGlobal Catastrophic Risks Twenty-six leading experts look at the gravest risks facing humanity in the 21st century, including natural catastrophes, nuclear war, terrorism, global warming, biological weapons, totalitarianism, advanced nanotechnology, general artificial intelligence, and social collapse. The book also addresses over-arching issues--policy responses and methods for predicting and managing catastrophes. Foreword by Lord Martin Rees. [Eds. Nick Bostrom & Milan Cirkovic (Oxford University Press, 2008)]. Introduction chapter free here [pdf]

The Future of Human Evolution
This paper explores some dystopian scenarios where freewheeling evolutionary developments, while continuing to produce complex and intelligent forms of organization, lead to the gradual elimination of all forms of being worth caring about. We then discuss how such outcomes could be avoided and argue that under certain conditions the only possible remedy would be a globally coordinated effort to control human evolution by adopting social policies that modify the default fitness function of future life forms. [In Death and Anti-Death, ed. Charles Tandy (Ria University Press, 2005)] [pdf] [html]
Technological Revolutions: Ethics and Policy in the Dark
Technological revolutions are among the most important things that happen to humanity. This paper discusses some of the ethical and policy issues raised by anticipated technological revolutions, such as nanotechnology. [In Nanoscale: Issues and Perspectives for the Nano Century, eds. Nigel M. de S. Cameron & M. Ellen Mitchell (John Wiley, 2007): 129-152] [pdf]
Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios and Related Hazards
Existential risks are ways in which we could screw up badly and permanently. Remarkably, relatively little serious work has been done in this important area. The point, of course, is not to welter in doom and gloom but to better understand where the biggest dangers are so that we can develop strategies for reducing them. [Journal of Evolution and Technology, Vol. 9, No. 1 (2002)] [html] [pdf] [translations: Russian, Belorussian]
Information Hazards: A Typology of Potential Harms from Knowledge
Information hazards are risks that arise from the dissemination or the potential dissemination of true information that may cause harm or enable some agent to cause harm. Such hazards are often subtler than direct physical threats, and, as a consequence, are easily overlooked. They can, however, be important. [Review of Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. 10 (2011): pp. 44-79 (first version: 2009)] [pdf]
What is a Singleton?
Concept describing a kind of social structure. [Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations, Vol. 5, No. 2 (2006): 48-54]

 

TECHNOLOGY ISSUES

Embryo Selection for Cognitive Enhancement: Curiosity or Game-changer?
The embryo selection during IVF can be vastly potentiated when the technology for stem-cell derived gametes becomes available for use in humans. This would enable iterated embryo selection (IES), compressing the effective generation time in a selection program from decades to months. [w/Carl Shulman] [Global Policy, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2014): 85-92] [pdf]
How Hard is AI? Evolutionary Arguments and Selection Effects
Some have argued that because blind evolutionary processes produced human intelligence on Earth, it should be feasible for clever human engineers to create human-level artificial intelligence in the not-too-distant future. We evaluate this argument. [w/ Carl Shulman] [J. Consciousness Studies, Vol. 19, No. 7-8 (2012): 103-130] [pdf]
The Wisdom of Nature: An Evolutionary Heuristic for Human Enhancement
Human beings are a marvel of evolved complexity. Such systems can be difficult to enhance. Here we describe a heuristic for identifying and evaluating the practicality, safety and efficacy of potential human enhancements, based on evolutionary considerations. [w/ Anders Sandberg] [In Enhancing Humans, eds. Julian Savulescu and Nick Bostrom (Oxford University Press, 2009): 365-416] [pdf]
The Superintelligent Will: Motivation and Instrumental Rationality in Advanced Artificial Agents
Presents two theses, the orthogonality thesis and the instrumental convergence thesis, that help understand teh possible range of behavior of superintelligent agents - also pointing to some potential dangers in building such an agent. [Minds and Machines, Vol. 22 (2012): 71-84] [pdf] [translation: Portuguese]
whole brain emulationWhole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap
A 130-page report on the technological prerequisites for whole brain emulation (aka "mind uploading"). (w/ Anders Sandberg) [Technical Report #2008-3, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University (2008)] [pdf]
Converging Cognitive Enhancements
Cognitive enhancements in the context of converging technologies. [Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 1093 (2006): 201-207] [w/ Anders Sandberg] [pdf]
Racing to the Precipice: a Model of Artificial Intelligence Development
Game theory model of a technology race to develop AI. Participants skimp on safety precautions to get there first. Analyzes factors that determine level of risk in the Nash equilibrium. [FHI Technical Report #2013-1] [w/ Stuart Armstrong & Carl Shulman] [pdf]
Thinking Inside the Box: Controlling and Using Oracle AI
Preliminary survey of various issues related to the idea of using boxing methods to safely contain a superintelligent oracle AI. [/w Stuart Armstrong and Anders Sandberg] [Minds and Machines, Vol. 22, No. 4 (2012): 299-324] [pdf]
Future Progress in Artificial Intelligence: A Survey of Expert Opinion
Some polling data. [Fundamental Issues of Artificial Intelligence, ed. V. Müller (Synthese Library: Springer, 2014] [forthcoming] [/w Vincent Müller] [pdf]
Cognitive Enhancement: Methods, Ethics, Regulatory Challenges
Cognitive enhancement comes in many diverse forms. In this paper, we survey the current state of the art in cognitive enhancement methods and consider their prospects for the near-term future. We then review some of ethical issues arising from these technologies. We conclude with a discussion of the challenges for public policy and regulation created by present and anticipated methods for cognitive enhancement. [w/ Anders Sandberg] [Science and Engineering Ethics, Vol. 15 (2009): 311-341] [pdf]
simulationAre You Living in a Computer Simulation? star
This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching the posthuman stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run significant number of simulations or (variations) of their evolutionary history; (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the naïve transhumanist dogma that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed. [Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 211 (2003): 243-255] [pdf] [html] [Also with a Reply to Brian Weatherson's comments [Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 218 (2009): 90-97; and a Reply to Anthony Brueckner, Analysis, Vol. 69, No. 3 (2009): 458-461] And a new paper w/ Marcin Kulczycki [Analysis, Vol. 71, No.1 (2011): 54-61]

THE NEW BOOK

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies star
This is the new book. Buy now! (U.S. release is Sept 3. Meanwhile, it can be pre-ordered, shipped from the UK, or obtained as e-book.)
[Oxford University Press, 2014]
 

 

 

"Nick Bostrom makes a persuasive case that the future impact of AI is perhaps the most important issue the human race has ever faced. Instead of passively drifting, we need to steer a course. Superintelligence charts the submerged rocks of the future with unprecedented detail. It marks the beginning of a new era."—Stuart Russell, Professor of Computer Science, University of California, Berkley

"Those disposed to dismiss an 'AI takeover' as science fiction may think again after reading this original and well-argued book." —Martin Rees, Past President, Royal Society

"a magnificent conception ... it ought to be required reading on all philosophy undergraduate courses, by anyone attempting to build AIs and by physicists who think there is no point to philosophy." —Brian Clegg, Popular Science

"There is no doubting the force of [Bostrom's] arguments...the problem is a research challenge worthy of the next generation's best mathematical talent. Human civilisation is at stake." —Financial Times

"This superb analysis by one of the world's clearest thinkers tackles one of humanity's greatest challenges: if future superhuman artificial intelligence becomes the biggest event in human history, then how can we ensure that it doesn't become the last?" —Professor Max Tegmark, MIT

"a damn hard read" —The Telegraph

 
 

ANTHROPICS & PROBABILITY

anthropic bias bookAnthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy star
Failure to consider observation selection effects result in a kind of bias that infest many branches of science and philosophy. This book presented the first mathematical theory for how to correct for these biases. It also discusses some implications for cosmology, evolutionary biology, game theory, the foundations of quantum mechanics, the Doomsday argument, the Sleeping Beauty problem, the search for extraterrestrial life, the question of whether God exists, and traffic planning. [Complete book now available for free online; also out as paperback; there is also a brief primer. [primer translations: Belarusian] [Routledge, 2002]
Self-Locating Belief in Big Worlds: Cosmology's Missing Link to Observation
Current cosmological theories say that the world is so big that all possible observations are in fact made. But then, how can such theories be tested? What could count as negative evidence? To answer that, we need to consider observation selection effects. [Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 99, No. 12 (2002): 607-623] [html] [pdf]
The Mysteries of Self-Locating Belief and Anthropic Reasoning
Summary of some of the difficulties that a theory of observation selection effects faces and sketch of a solution. [Harvard Review of Philosophy, Vol. 11, Spring (2003): 59-74] [pdf]
Anthropic Shadow: Observation Selection Effects and Human Extinction Risks
"Anthropic shadow" is an observation selection effect that prevent observers from observing certain kinds of catastrophes in their recent geological and evolutionary past. We risk underestimating the risk of catastrophe types that lie in this shadow. (w/ Milan Cirkovic & Anders Sandberg) [Risk Analysis, Vol. 30, No. 10 (2010): 1495-1506] [Won best paper of the year award by the journal editors] [translation: Russian] [pdf]
Observation Selection Effects, Measures, and Infinite Spacetimes
An advanced Introduction to observation selection theory and its application to the cosmological fine-tuning problem [Universe or Multiverse?, ed. Bernard Carr (Cambridge University Press, 2007)] [pdf]
The Doomsday argument and the Self-Indication Assumption: Reply to Olum
Argues against Olum and the Self-Indication Assumption. [Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 210 (2003): 83-91] [w/ Milan Cirkovic] [pdf]
The Doomsday Argument is Alive and Kicking
Have Korb and Oliver refuted the doomsday argument? No. [Mind, Vol.108, No. 431 (1999): 539-550] [translations: Russian]
The Doomsday Argument, Adam & Eve, UN++, and Quantum Joe
On the Doomsday argument and related paradoxes. [Synthese, Vol. 127, No. 3 (2001): 359-387] [html] [pdf]
A Primer on the Doomsday argument
The Doomsday argument purports to prove, from basic probability theory and a few seemingly innocuous empirical premises, that the risk that our species will go extinct soon is much greater than previously thought. My view is that the Doomsday argument is inconclusive - although not for any trivial reason. In my book, I argued that a theory of observation selection effects is needed to explain where it goes wrong. [Colloquia Manilana (PDCIS), Vol. 7 (1999)] [translations: Russian]
Sleeping Beauty and Self-Location: A Hybrid Model
The Sleeping Beauty problem is an important test stone for theories about self-locating belief. I argue against both the traditional views on this problem and propose a new synthetic approach. [Synthese, Vol. 157, No. 1 (2007): 59-78] [pdf]

Beyond the Doomsday Argument: Reply to Sowers and Further Remarks Argues against George Sower's refutation of the doomsday argument, and outlines what I think is the real flaw. [pdf]

Cars In the Other Lane Really Do Go Faster When driving on the motorway, have you ever wondered about (and cursed!) the fact that cars in the other lane seem to be getting ahead faster than you? One might be tempted to account for this by invoking Murphy's Law ("If anything can go wrong, it will", discovered by Edward A. Murphy, Jr, in 1949). But there is an alternative explanation, based on observational selection effects... [PLUS, No. 17 (2001)]

Observer-relative chances in anthropic reasoning? A paradoxical thought experiment [Erkenntnis, Vol. 52 (2000): 93-108]

Examines the implications of recent evidence for a cosmological constant for the prospects of indefinite information processing in the multiverse. Co-authored with Milan M. Cirkovic. [Astrophysics and Space Science, Vol. 279, No. 4 (2000): 675-687] [pdf]

 

PHILOSOPHY OF MIND

If two brains are in identical states, are there two numerically distinct phenomenal experiences or only one? Two, I argue. But what happens in intermediary cases? This paper looks in detail at this question and suggests that there can be a fractional (non-integer) number of qualitatively identical experiences. This has implications for what it is to implement a computation and for Chalmer's Fading Qualia thought experiment. [Minds and Machines, Vol. 16, No. 2 (2006): 185-200] [pdf]

 

DECISION THEORY

A self-undermining variant of the Newcomb problem. [Analysis, Vol. 61, No. 4 (2001): 309-310] [html] [pdf]
Pascal's Mugging
Finite version of Pascal's Wager. [Analysis, Vol. 69, No. 3 (2009): 443-445] [translation: French] [pdf]
   

BIO

Nick Bostrom is Professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University. He is the founding Director of the Future of Humanity Institute, a multidisciplinary research center which enables a few exceptional mathematicians, philosophers, and scientists to think carefully about global priorities and big questions for humanity.

Bostrom has a background in physics, computational neuroscience, and mathematical logic as well as philosophy. He is the author of some 200 publications, including Anthropic Bias (Routledge, 2002), Global Catastrophic Risks (ed., OUP, 2008), and Human Enhancement (ed., OUP, 2009), and the forthcoming book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (OUP, 2014). He is best known for his work in five areas: (i) existential risk; (ii) the simulation argument; (iii) anthropics (developing the first mathematically explicit theory of observation selection effects); (iv) impacts of future technology; and (v) implications of consequentialism for global strategy.

He is recipient of a Eugene R. Gannon Award (one person selected annually worldwide from the fields of philosophy, mathematics, the arts and other humanities, and the natural sciences). Earlier this year he was included on Prospect magazine’s World Thinkers list, the youngest person in the top 15 from all fields and the highest-ranked analytic philosopher. His writings have been translated into 22 languages. There have been more than 100 translations and reprints of his works.

BACKGROUND

I was born in Helsingborg, Sweden, and grew up by the seashore. I was bored in school. At age fifteen or sixteen I had an intellectual awakening, and feeling that I had wasted the first one and a half decades of my life, I resolved to focus on what was important. Since I did not know what was important, and I did not know how to find out, I decided to start by trying to place myself in a better position to find out. So I began a project of intellectual self-development, which I pursued with great intensity for the next one and a half decades.

As an undergraduate, I studied many subjects in parallel, and I gather that my performance set a national record. I was once expelled for studying too much, after the head of Umeå University psychology department discovered that I was concurrently following several other full-time programs of study (physics, philosophy, and mathematical logic), which he believed to be psychologically impossible.

For my postgraduate work, I went to London, where I studied physics and neuroscience at King's College, and obtained a PhD from the London School of Economics. For a while I did a little bit stand-up comedy on the vibrant London pub and theatre circuit.

During those years, I co-founded, with David Pearce, the World Transhumanist Association, a nonprofit grassroots organization. Later, I was involved in founding the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, a nonprofit virtual think tank. The objective was to stimulate wider discussion about the implications of future technologies, in particular technologies that might lead to human enhancement. (These organizations have since developed on their own trajectories, and it is very much not the case that I agree with everything said by those who flock under the transhumanist flag.)

Since 2006, I've been the founding director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. This unique multidisciplinary research aims to enable a select set of intellects to apply careful thinking to big-picture question for humanity and global priorities. The Institute belongs to the Faculty of Philosophy and the Oxford Martin School. Since 2011, I also direct the Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology.

I am in a very fortunate position. I have no teaching duties. I am supported by a staff of assistants and brilliant research fellows. There are virtually no restrictions on what I can work on. I must try very hard to be worthy of this privilege and to cast some light on matters that matter.

CONTACT

For administrative matters, scheduling, and invitations, please contact my assistant, Lamprini Repouliou:

Email: fhiadmin[atsign]philosophy[dot]ox[dot]ac[dot]uk
Phone: +44 (0)1865 286800

If you need to contact me directly (I regret I am unable to respond to all emails): nick[atsign]nickbostrom[dot]com.

 

 

VIRTUAL ESTATE

www.fhi.ox.ac.uk - Future of Humanity Institute

www.anthropic-principle.com - Papers on observational selection effects

www.simulation-argument.com - Devoted to the question, "Are you living in a computer simulation?"

www.existential-risk.org - Human extinction scenarios and related concerns

 

 

 

 

On the bank at the end
Of what was there before us
Gazing over to the other side
On what we can become
Veiled in the mist of naïve speculation
We are busy here preparing
Rafts to carry us across
Before the light goes out leaving us
In the eternal night of could-have-been

CRUCIAL CONSIDERATIONS

A thread that runs through my work is a concern with "crucial considerations". A crucial consideration is an idea or argument that might plausibly reveal the need for not just some minor course adjustment in our practical endeavours but a major change of direction or priority.

If we have overlooked even just one such consideration, then all our best efforts might be for naught---or less. When headed the wrong way, the last thing needed is progress. It is therefore important to pursue such lines of inquiry as might disclose an unnoticed crucial consideration.

Some of the relevant inquiries are about moral philosophy and values. Others have to do with rationality and reasoning under uncertainty. Still others pertain to specific issues and possibilities, such as existential risks, the simulation hypothesis, human enhancement, infinite utilities, anthropic reasoning, information hazards, the future of machine intelligence, or the singularity hypothesis.

High-leverage questions associated with crucial considerations deserve to be investigated. My research interests are quite wide-ranging; yet they all stem from the quest to understand the big picture for humanity, so that we can more wisely choose what to aim for and what to do. Embarking on this quest has seemed the best way to try to make a positive contribution to the world.

 

SOME VIDEOS AND LECTURES

Wide-ranging interview, 51 mins long, published 23 February 2013.
In the Great Silence there is Great Hope
Radio lecture on extraterrestrial life and the Fermi Paradox, commissioned for the BBC Radio 3 (aired on 19 July 2007) [pdf]
 
Three Big Problems

This short talk (delivered in a somewhat sleep-deprived state) was given to a popular audience at the TED conference in Oxford, back in July 2005.

 

POLICY

The Future of Identity
On the future of "human identity" in relation to information and communication technologies, automation and robotics, and biotechnology and medicine. [Report, Commissioned by the UK's Government Office for Science, 2011] [w/ Anders Sandberg] [pdf]
Smart Policy: Cognitive Enhancement and the Public Interest
Summarizing some of the key issues and offering policy recommendations for a "smart policy" on biomedical methods of enhancing cognitive performance. [In Enhancing Human Capacities, eds. J. Savulescu, R, ter Muelen, & G. Kahane (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)] [w/ Rebecca Roache] [pdf]
Why we need Friendly AI
Humans will not always be the most intelligent agents on Earth, the ones steering the future. What will happen to us when we no longer play that role, and how can we prepare for this transition? [Think, Vol. 13, No. 36 (2013): 41-47] [w/ Luke Muehlhauser] [pdf]
Three Ways to Advance Science
Those who seek the advancement of science should focus more on scientific research that facilitates further research across a wide range of domains---particularly cognitive enhancement. [Nature Podcast, 31 January 2008] [pdf]
Drugs can be used to treat more than disease
Short letter to the editor on obstacles to the development of better cognitive enhancement drugs. [Nature, Vol. 452, No. 7178 (2008): 520] [pdf]

INTERVIEWS

Omens starnew
Long article by Ross Andersen about the work of the Future of Humanity Institute (February, 2013)
How to make a difference in research: interview for 80,000 Hours starnew
Interview for the meta-charity 80,000 Hours on how to make a maximally positive impact on the world for people contemplating an academic career trajectory (January, 2013)
On the simulation argument star
15-minute audio interview explaining explaining the simulation argument. (Philosophy Bites, 2011) [mp3]
On cognitive enhanceent and status quo bias
15-minute interview about status quo bias in bioethics, and the "reversal test" by which such bias might be cured. (Bioethics, 2011) [mp3]
50-min interview on Hearsay Culture
Covering Future of Humanity Institute, crucial considerations, existential risks, information hazards, and academic specialization. Interviewed by Prof. Dave Levine, KZSU-FM (Stanford University, 2010) [mp3]
Interview for The European
Interviewed by Martin Eiermann about existential risks, genetic enhancements, and ethical discourses about technological progress. (13 June 2011)
Three Ways to Advance Science
[Nature Podcast, 31 January 2008] [pdf] [mp3] (my segment starts about 19:30 in)
Interview for Oxford Today Alumni Magazine
With Peter Snow (17 July 2009)
Short podcast segment on global catastrophic risks
Interviewed by David Edmonds (6 October 2009) [audio]

 

SOME ADDITONAL (OLD, COBWEBBED) PAPERS

On this page.

MISCELLANEOUS

Fictional interview of an uploaded dog by Larry King. [html]
Synkrotron
A poetry cycle... in Swedish, unfortunately. I stopped writing poetry after this, although I've had a few relapses in the English language.
The World in 2050
Imaginary dialogue, set in the year 2050, in which three pundits debate the big issues of their time [2000]
Transhumanism: The World's Most Dangerous Idea?
According to Francis Fukuyama, yes. This is my response. [Short version in Foreign Policy; full version in Betterhumans, issue 10/19/2004] [html] [translations: Italian]
Moralist, meet Scientist
Review of Kwame Anthony Appiah's book "Experiments in Ethics". [Nature, Vol. 453 (2008): 593-594] [pdf]
How Long Before Superintelligence?
This paper, now a few years old, examines how likely it might be that we will develop superhuman artificial intelligence within the first third of this century. [Updated version of the original in Int. J. of Future Studies, Vol. 2 (1998)] [translations: Russian]
When Machines Outsmart Humans
This slightly more recent (but still obscolete) article briefly reviews the argument set out in the previous one, and notes four immediate consequences of human-level machine intelligence. [Futures, Vol. 35, No. 7 (2003): 759-764, where it appears as the target paper of a symposium, together with five commentaries by other people, to which I had the opportunity to reply in the subsequent issue.]
Everything
Response to 2008 Edge Question: "What have you changed your mind about?" [pdf]
Superintelligence
Response to 2009 Edge Question: "What will change everything?" [pdf]
Most Still to Come
Response to 2010 Edge Question: "How has the Internet changing the way you think?" [pdf]
Dinosaurs, Dodos, Humans?
Short article on existential risks. [Global Agenda, Feb (2006): 230-231; the annual publication of the World Economic Forum] [pdf] [translations: Italian]
The Game of Life - And Looking for Generators
Response to 2011 Edge Question: "What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?" [pdf]

 

poetry words...