Forthcoming. Foreword by Dr. Paul Ehrlich.
Routledge Studies in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
October 2017. Foreword by Lord Martin Rees.
February 2016. Foreword by Dr. Russell Blackford.
Our technology increasingly threatens the survival of civilization and perhaps all human life. It is becoming clear that we, now, have a responsibility unique in history: policy decisions made in the next decade or two will determine the fate of untold billions into the farthest future. Apocalyptic thinking has become relevant, even practical. Such thinking has ancient roots of more than historical interest, but exploring these roots is only the beginning for Torres. He goes on to uncover and analyze in novel ways remarkable developments in philosophy and science, new thinking that undermines everything preceding. We have hardly begun to grasp the meaning of this upheaval in how people perceive humanity’s future. Torres’s engagingly written book, admirably thorough, is a good start for facing our awesome responsibilities.
—Spencer Weart, former director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics and author of Nuclear Fear: A History of Images and The Discovery of Global Warming
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If thinking about human extinction ends up hurting you head but intriguing your brain, this book is for you. Despite a long personal history of head-hurting, I had never looked in detail at what others think about the big questions. Phil Torres has done it in amazing depth and with amazing insight. He covers virtually all my heroes (e.g., Denis Diderot) and villains (Herman Kahn) and many whose ideas I have never explored. He goes all the way back to the views of desert nomads who thought everything was created by one or more supernatural monsters—an idea that persists in large numbers of people to this day and may infect more as collapse becomes increasingly apparent. And he goes forward to the (to me) equally crackpot ideas that Homo sapiens will be perpetuated by cyborgs or machines with humanlike intellectual characteristics. I am certain of the ridiculousness of the former since no shred of evidence for the existence of omnipotent monsters has ever emerged, and equally certain that I’ll be dead before I can be proven wrong on the latter. I learned from, and (weirdly) enjoyed, this book. You will too.
—Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies in the Department of Biology, Stanford University, and author of The Population Bomb and The Population Explosion
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What are our obligations toward future generations? How should we respond to the prospect of human extinction? In this fascinating book, Phil Torres surveys the diverse responses that have been offered to these fundamental questions. I highly recommend it!
—Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, former President of the Royal Society, and author of Our Final Hour and On the Future: Prospects for Humanity
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A colourful, whirlwind guide to the history of human extinction. From Aristotle to Zoroastrianism, bioweapons to supervolcanoes, Torres details the threats to humanity and the thinkers who have shaped our understanding of them.
—Luke Kemp, Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge
[more coming soon]
Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing is an excellent introduction to a new and important area of research. I hope it will be widely read.
— Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and author of Animal Liberation and The Most Good You Can Do
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A careful study of modern day emerging risks by one of the real emerging thinkers of our time. A must read for anyone who cares about the future of the planet, in other words, a must read for all of us.
— Rachel Bronson, Executive Director and Publisher, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
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The exponential development of information technology promises extraordinary benefits for humanity, from the elimination of disease to radical life extension. But intertwined with this promise is great peril—existential risks associated with "GNR" (genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics or AI). This book offers a careful exploration of this promise-versus-peril challenge. This is a must-read for anyone concerned about the future of humanity—and beyond.
— Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist, and author of The Singularity Is Near and How to Create a Mind
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For millions of years, prior to the mid-1950s, humans lacked the ability to create or avoid a global catastrophe of any sort. Now we can do both—and for so many different scenarios that we now need a thorough review of threats and options for avoidance. We need this both because some of these scenarios interact and because considerable planning and prioritization is vital. This book by Phil Torres provides this essential resource with insights into both the high level philosophical and the “how-to” detailed levels. We must work hard to persist and thrive.
— George Church, Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and advisor at the Future of Life Institute
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The path to our future is rife with threats to the very existence of humanity. How can we avoid creating technologies that destroy us, as well as other global catastrophes? We need a roadmap, and this is precisely what Torres provides in this carefully thought-out and useful book.
— Susan Schneider, Associate Professor at the University of Connecticut, author of The Language of Thought: A New Philosophical Direction, and editor of Science Fiction and Philosophy
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Taking the reader on a harrowing yet hopeful tour of the landscape of existential risks, Torres masterfully molds complex, often abstract—but critically important—ideas about our continued existence into a concrete introduction to the topic… Absolutely essential reading for anyone with the curiosity to learn of the dangers that lie in wait for humanity and the courage to believe that we can act to avoid them.
— Gary Ackerman, Director, Unconventional Weapons and Technology Division, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START); Associate, Global Catastrophic Risks Institute
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This is a welcome and timely book which draws attention to issues that our civilisation’s entire fate may depend on—and which need far more attention and focus than they currently receive.
— Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, former President of the Royal Society, and cofounder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (From the book's foreword.)
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Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing is an exceedingly thought-provoking book on a topic that must garner humanity’s attention, the potential extinction of itself. This well-researched and well-written book is necessarily transdisciplinary because contributions pertinent to this topic entail perspectives from philosophy to climate change, and artificial intelligence to cognitive science. It is a must read for those concerned with moving the world from myopic, crisis driven policymaking to proactive decision-making needed to protect the future of humanity.
— Bruce Tonn, Consulting Editor for the journal Futures, and President of the non-profit Three3
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[Note: I have removed Krauss's blurb following a number of serious and credible allegations of sexual harassment.]
— Lawrence M. Krauss
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How might our world end? By our own hand? Or might danger loom from outside forces? Either way, Phil Torres takes you on a tour of the new field of Big Risk assessment, including ways we might protect our fragile promise.
— David Brin, physicist and award-winning science fiction author
About this Book
Existential risk studies is a growing field that attempts to understand the greatest dangers to humanity from a scientific perspective. This book offers the most comprehensive scholarly survey of existential risks to date, from asteroid impacts and climate change to molecular nanotechnology and machine superintelligence. It argues that avoiding an existential catastrophe should be among our highest priorities and explores a number of high-level strategies for reducing the probability of a worst-case outcome. The dangers facing humanity this century are real and unprecedented, but the future course of civilization is not beyond our control.
In atheism, as in many religious traditions, the end of the world has a special significance. For us, the goal is to make sure it doesn't happen. Phil Torres' book is a great start. It's a provocative look at existential risks near and far, and is sure to get people thinking about these important questions.
— Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist at Caltech and author of The Particle at the End of the Universe
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Phil Torres takes us on a fascinating journey through some rather alarming territory. His fear that the human race may soon be extinct is all too clearly justified—but so also is his message that we can do many things to minimize the danger.
— John Leslie, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and author of The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction
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Secular Westerners who study catastrophic risks largely ignore the fact that, for the majority of people on the planet, the risks to the future of human existence are seen through a religious lens. Torres makes an enormous contribution with this explanation of the relationship between those eschatological belief systems and attempts to create a science of catastrophic risk estimation around threats from both technology and the natural world. ... People interested in the apocalyptic worldviews of groups like ISIS and the Christian Right need to read this book to understand how contemporary science will be woven into the eschatological narrative. People interested in ensuring that humanity successfully navigates the 21st century need to read this concise and comprehensive contribution to catastrophic risk literature.
— James Hughes, Executive Director, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and author of Citizen Cyborg
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Torres does an excellent job introducing the potential dangers of superintelligent machines, without expecting the reader to be an expert in Artificial Intelligence, but without dumbing down the topic.
— Roman Yampolskiy, Director of the Cybersecurity Laboratory at the University of Louisville and 2015 Research Advisor at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute
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David Hume famously said that mistakes in religion were dangerous. He didn't know how dangerous, nor did we, until Phil Torres explained it in The End.
— Alex Rosenberg, R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University and author of The Atheist's Guide to Reality and The Girl from Krakow
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I love this book. Torres is a rare communicator who handles big topics with extraordinary skill. In this stunning, scary, and fun book, he tackles nothing less than the end of us. From irrational religious claims about one apocalypse or another to sober, science-based possibilities of real doomsdays, Torres covers it all in grand style. This must-read book answers many questions while also spurring readers to think of new questions--exactly what a great book should do. Don't hesitate. Hurry and read The End before the clock strikes twelve!
— Guy P. Harrison, author of Good Thinking: What you need to know to be smarter, safer, wealthier, and wiser and 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian
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Like Dickens’ famously dire Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Phil Torres provides humans with a glimpse into our unenviable future. How are we doomed? Torres counts the ways in a surprisingly enjoyable and readable journey through the mine eld of modern-day apocalyptic hazards. By the way, Torres couldn’t be clearer that escaping religion’s thrall is an essential step to humans surviving a very dangerous century. So let’s give it a try, shall we?
— Robyn Blumner, President and CEO of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
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You're not even a real scholar, even while pretending to be one, another reason why no one takes you seriously and why, in addition to being hypocritical and dishonest, you've been banned from those sites. The problem is not with "skepticism." The problem is with you. Look in the mirror Torres. I'm sorry I ever tried to help you. It was a big mistake that I will not make again.
— Michael Shermer, Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and author of The Moral Arc*
About this Book
We live in a genuinely unique period of human history, one in which the alarmist's hackneyed warning that “The end is near!” could actually come true. The world is cluttered with increasingly powerful advanced technologies. Global warming and biodiversity loss are unchecked catastrophes that will likely push society to the brink of collapse. How are we to respond to this situation? What can we do to maximize the probability of a positive outcome for our species? The End surveys the expanding wilderness of big-picture hazards before us. It offers a comprehensive and detailed analysis of our evolving existential predicament, which includes risks from synthetic biology, nanotechnology, nuclear weaponry, and (possibly, soon) superintelligence. But understanding the science of risks isn't enough to effectively mitigate them: one must also understand the social, political, and religious contexts in which advanced technologies are being developed. The End provides this knowledge by showing how faith-based belief in religious eschatologies (or end-times narratives) is inching us ever closer to a secular apocalypse. Immediate action must be taken to avert a disaster. The question is whether humanity will choose reason over faith, observation over revelation, and science over religion.
* That is an actual quote from Shermer on social media after I took seriously multiple allegations from numerous women of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Here's what he originally said: "Phil Torres' The End is the most chilling reality check on over-optimism I've ever read, a gripping narrative that would could be a Hollywood blockbuster film script but in fact is grounded in facts and data about what threatens to send humanity the way of the dinosaurs. Expect the best but prepare for the worst by reading this important book."