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Global Catastrophic Risks Paperback – August 1, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0199606504 ISBN-10: 0199606501 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

Review

`Review from previous edition This volume is remarkably entertaining and readable...It's risk assessment meets science fiction.' Natural Hazards Observer

`The book works well, providing a mine of peer-reviewed information on the great risks that threaten our own and future generations.' Nature

`We should welcome this fascinating and provocative book.' Martin J Rees (from foreword)

`[Provides] a mine of peer-reviewed information on the great risks that threaten our own and future generations.' Nature

About the Author


Nick Bostrom, PhD, is Director of the Future of Humanity Institute, in the James Martin 21st Century School, at Oxford University. He previously taught at Yale University in the Department of Philosophy and in the Yale Institute for Social and Policy Studies. Bostrom has served as an expert consultant for the European Commission in Brussels and for the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington DC. He has advised the British Parliament, the European Parliament, and many other public bodies on issues relating to emerging technologies.

Milan M. Cirkovic, PhD, is a senior research associate of the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade, (Serbia) and a professor of Cosmology at Department of Physics, University of Novi Sad (Serbia). He received both his PhD in Physics and his MSc in Earth and Space Sciences from the State University of New York at Stony Brook (USA) and his BSc in Theoretical Physics was received from the University of Belgrade.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (August 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199606501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199606504
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 1.1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
5 star
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See all 11 customer reviews
I reccommend it as a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10!!
R. B. Cathcart
Probably the most dangerous future risk is going to be the advent of real Artificial Intelligence within our lifetime or very near into the future.
TretiaK
If, like me, you get very annoyed by "typos," be forewarned.
Mike Byrne

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Peter McCluskey on September 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a relatively comprehensive collection of thoughtful essays about the risks of a major catastrophe (mainly those that would kill a billion or more people).
Probably the most important chapter is the one on risks associated with AI, since few people attempting to create an AI seem to understand the possibilities it describes. It makes some implausible claims about the speed with which an AI could take over the world, but the argument they are used to support only requires that a first-mover advantage be important, and that is only weakly dependent on assumptions about that speed with which AI will improve.
The risks of a large fraction of humanity being killed by a super-volcano is apparently higher than the risk from asteroids, but volcanoes have more of a limit on their maximum size, so they appear to pose less risk of human extinction.
The risks of asteroids and comets can't be handled as well as I thought by early detection, because some dark comets can't be detected with current technology until it's way too late. It seems we ought to start thinking about better detection systems, which would probably require large improvements in the cost-effectiveness of space-based telescopes or other sensors.
Many of the volcano and asteroid deaths would be due to crop failures from cold weather. Since mid-ocean temperatures are more stable that land temperatures, ocean based aquaculture would help mitigate this risk.
The climate change chapter seems much more objective and credible than what I've previously read on the subject, but is technical enough that it won't be widely read, and it won't satisfy anyone who is looking for arguments to justify their favorite policy.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mike Byrne VINE VOICE on January 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
GCR (Global Catastrophic Risks) is a real page-turner. I literally couldn't put it down. Sometimes I'd wake up in the middle of the night with the book open on my chest, and the lights on, and I'd begin reading again from where I'd dozed off hours earlier, and I'd keep reading till I just had to go to sleep.

I had read a review of GCR in the scientific journal "Nature" in which the reviewer complained that the authors had given the global warming issue short shrift. I considered this a plus.

If, like me, you get very annoyed by "typos," be forewarned. There are enough typos in GCR to start a collection. At first I was a bit annoyed by them, but some were quite amusing... almost as if they were done on purpose.

Most of the typos were straight typing errors, or errors of fact. For example, on page 292 the author says that the 1918 flu pandemic killed "only 23%" of those infected. Only 23%? That seems a rather high percentage to be preceeded by the qualifier "only". Of course, although 50 million people died in the pandemic, this represented "only" 2% to 3% of those infected... not 23%. On p 295 we read "the rats and their s in ships" and it might take us a moment to determine that it should have read, "the rats and their fleas in ships."

But many of the typos were either fun, or a bit more tricky to figure out: on p. 254 we find "canal so" which you can probably predict should have been "can also." Much trickier, on p. 255 we find, "A large meteoric impact was invoked (...) in order to explain their idium anomaly." Their idium anomaly?? Nah. Better would have been..."the iridium anomaly!" (That's one of my favorites.) Elsewhere, we find twice on the same page "an arrow" instead of "a narrow"... and so it goes...
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By R. B. Cathcart on August 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Individual and government policy instigators everywhere, starting with voting citizens, must face the common problem of bringing expert knowledge to bear on globalized public policy-making. This book is rather like a "think tank" in and of itself and could serve such a purpose successfully! Campaigning in 1912, the intellectual and soon-to-be-US President Woodrow Wilson commented that "What I fear is a government of experts". Yet, in the 21st Century, the world-public has to have the best possible advice on macro-problems that can, may or certainly will impact human society. The Canadian scientist Vaclav Smil, in GLOBAL CATASTROPHES AND TRENDS: THE NEXT FIFTY YEARS (2008) has also foreseen, along with the stellar topic-centered name writers in this excellent revelatory text,the necessity of focused individuals, investigative panels and advisory bodies helping the world-public. None express a desire or need to "rule the world", the stealing of choices from the world-public, or the foreclosure of world-public options for future life-styles! However, they do a masterful job of explicating the macro-problems developing, impending or forecastable. The well-edited prose, informative diagrams and necessary illustrations are simply awe-inspiring! This demonstrative text--by no means to be considered a textbook--is fascinating, alarming, inspiring and just plain delicious reading. I reccommend it as a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10!!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David J. Aldous on November 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
21 chapters by different authors succeed in the declared goal of giving a big picture of the subject (GCR) as seen by academics in different disciplines. The content is appropriately non-technical -- like the serious end of the ``popular science" genre -- though the writing styles are more reminiscent of an academic paper or lecture than the style of best-selling popular science books. The opening 8 ``background" chapters (on very diverse topics from long-term astrophysics to public policy toward catastrophe) were the least satisfying to me, many (while interesting in themselves) seeming to be each author's favorite lecture recycled with a nod to GCR. Of these chapters, let me just single out Eliezer Yudkowsky's chapter on cognitive biases in an individual's risk assessments, as one of the best 20-page summaries of that topic I have read.

Amongst the core chapters discussing particular risks, the three that are most ``hard science", on supervolcanos, asteroid or comet impact, and extra-solar-system risks are just great -- one learns for instance that (contrary to much science fiction) comets are more a risk than asteroids, and the major risk in the last category is not nearby supernovas but cosmic rays created by gamma ray bursts. These three chapters are perhaps the only contexts where it's reasonable to attempt to estimate actual probabilities of the catastrophes.

The balanced article on global warming is unlikely to please extremists, concluding that mainstream science predicts a linear increase in temperature that may be unpleasant but not catastrophic, while the various speculative non-linear possibilities leading to catastrophe have plausibilities impossible to assess. The article on pandemics is surprisingly upbeat (``are influenza pandemics likely?
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