#59 – Torres on Existential Risk, Omnicidal Agents and Superintelligence

Phil Torres

In this episode I talk to Phil Torres. Phil is an author and researcher who primarily focuses on existential risk. He is currently a visiting researcher at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University. He has published widely on emerging technologies, terrorism, and existential risks, with articles appearing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Futures, Erkenntnis, Metaphilosophy, Foresight, Journal of Future Studies, and the Journal of Evolution and Technology. He is the author of several books, including most recently Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing: An Introduction to Existential Risks. We talk about the problem of apocalyptic terrorists, the proliferation dual-use technology and the governance problem that arises as a result. This is both a fascinating and potentially terrifying discussion.

You can download the episode here or listen below. You can also subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and a variety of other podcasting services (the RSS feed is here).

Show Notes

  • 0:00 – Introduction
  • 3:14 – What is existential risk? Why should we care?
  • 8:34 – The four types of agential risk/omnicidal terrorists
  • 17:51 – Are there really omnicidal terror agents?
  • 20:45 – How dual-use technology give apocalyptic terror agents the means to their desired ends
  • 27:54 – How technological civilisation is uniquely vulernable to omnicidal agents
  • 32:00 – Why not just stop creating dangerous technologies?
  • 36:47 – Making the case for mass surveillance
  • 41:08 – Why mass surveillance must be asymmetrical
  • 45:02 – Mass surveillance, the problem of false positives and dystopian governance
  • 56:25 – Making the case for benevolent superintelligent governance
  • 1:02:51 – Why advocate for something so fantastical?
  • 1:06:42 – Is an anti-tech solution any more fantastical than a benevolent AI solution?
  • 1:10:20 – Does it all just come down to values: are you a techno-optimist or a techno-pessimist?

Relevant Links


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