Feb 16, 2008

Safeguarding Humanity

Posted by in categories: existential risks, futurism

I was born into a world in which no individual or group claimed to own the mission embodied in the Lifeboat Foundation’s two-word motto. Government agencies, charitable organizations, universities, hospitals, religious institutions — all might have laid claim to some peace of the puzzle. But safeguarding humanity? That was out of everyone’s scope. It would have been a plausible motto only for comic-book organizations such as the Justice League or the Guardians of the Universe.

Take the United Nations, conceived in the midst of the Second World War and brought into its own after the war’s conclusion. The UN Charter states that the United Nations exists:

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

All of these are noble, and incredibly important, aims. But even the United Nations manages to name only one existential risk, warfare, which it is pledged to help prevent. Anyone reading this can probably cite a half dozen more.

It is both exciting and daunting to live in an age in which a group like the Lifeboat Foundation can exist outside of the realm of fantasy. It’s exciting because our awareness of possibility is so much greater than it was even a generation or two ago. And it is daunting for exactly the same reason. We can envision plausible triumphs for humanity that really do transcend our wildest dreams, or at least our most glorious fantasies as articulated a few decades ago. Likewise, that worst of all possible outcomes — the sudden and utter disappearance of our civilization, or of our species, or of life itself — now presents itself as the end result of not just one possible calamity, but of many.

I’ve spent the last few years writing about many of those plausible triumphs, while paying less attention to the possible calamities. But I’m not sure that this is a clear-cut dichotomy. Pursuing the former may ultimately provide us with the tools and resources we will need to contend with the latter. So my own personal motto becomes something of a double-edged sword. I encourage everyone to strive to “live to see it.” But maybe we also need to figure out how we can see it…to live.

With that in mind, perhaps “safeguarding humanity” takes on a double meaning, too. We must find a way for humanity to survive in the face of these very real threats. Moreover, we must find a way for humanity — the values, the accomplishments, the sense of purpose which has defined the entire human experience — to survive. And that may be the most audacious mission statement of all.

Stephen Gordon and I will be interviewing the Lifeboat Foundation’s International Spokesperson Philippe Van Nedervelde on our podcast, FastForward Radio on Feb 17, 2008 at 7:00 PM Pacific / 10:00 PM Eastern. We’ll be talking about risks and the role of Lifeboat in helping to mitigate against them.


Comments — comments are now closed.

  1. Alan Kelly says:

    Steven, Phil? First time here, I browsed your past interviews, so clearly you talk with numbers of people. Does your process include transcribing interviews, or do you do Email interviews? A.K.

  2. matoko kusanagi says:

    i skimmed this site
    how is this not the society of luddites?
    humanity cannot be safeguarded thru supression/regulation of research.
    the only way to safeguard humanity against technology is with better technology.

  3. Alan –

    We don’t do written transcripts of the audio interviews, but the e-mail interview is one of our favorite approaches to creating content on the blog.

    Matoko –

    Stop skimming and read carefully. This is so not the society of luddites. As for safeguarding humanity from technology with better technology — I refer you to my second-to-last paragraph, above.

  4. matoko kusanagi says:

    u shud reread the “biosheild” crap
    sorry phil

  5. matoko kusanagi says:

    praps it is just the society of bioluddites

  6. tioedong says:

    Safeguard humanity?
    A bit awkward.
    Why don’t you just use the pithier phrase “to Serve Man”.…

    Whoops. The Twilight zone did that one…

  7. Matoko -

    Riiiiiight. Those awful technophobic luddites want to

    1. Require screening procedures at DNA synthesis labs for potentially dangerous gene sequences.

    2. Standardize watch lists so that said screening can be at least somewhat consistent and effective

    3. Create a confidential hotline for biosafety and security issues so that individuals can check whether an experiment they’re contemplating might have more significant consequences than they anticipate.

    And as unbelievably repressive as all that is, I’m sure you would argue that it’s only a cover — only the beginning of their true agenda. Next thing you know, butcher shops will be required to routinely clean their cutting implements and surgeons will be required to wash their hands before operating and wear masks while doing so. The humanity!

    I went ahead and read the whole Bioshield page and found that most of what’s presented there has to do with safeguarding humanity from technology through better technology. Now where have I heard that idea before?

  8. matoko kusanagi says:

    when i came to this site i was thinkin of hawkins new planet for homo sapiens sapiens.
    is hawkins on the advisory board?

  9. robomoon says:

    Important to fill the gap which UN Charter can’t show. Required next to it that the education gap can be filled too. Many existential risks are so complicated that an average person will no longer understand. As I already sent to the Advisory Board: There is SeedPreserver and BioPreserver while the latter is for animals. Easily skimmed. It puzzles me even more that LifeShield is in case it fails while BioShield is for smaller forms of life and SecurityPreserver is also for greater forms.

    “(Quote) Pursuing the former may ultimately provide us with the tools and resources we will need to contend with the latter.” Which? Not the “clear-cut dichotomy”, but “many of those plausible triumphs”. Plausible? Just “awareness of possibility” together with “triumphs for humanity”. That’s better technology, is it? Took me two days to realize. Would take a minute if I’m average; Not anyone is an academic.

    Before Lifeboat, there were not only the Justice League or the Guardians of the Universe, but also small organizations with goals as: “Better health for future generations of humans and preservation of personality”. Only after the upcoming of Cryonics, the people had a greater interest in them. Even I was running such organization in Germany expecting better AI just before CyBeRev went online.

  10. Sue says:

    The trouble is that contrary to its pretensions
    Life”-Boat is a leading edge advocate of the adolescent power seeking anti-cultural disposition that has got us into our current crisis in the first place. The asana and motives of which are described in this essay.

    Plus this related reference describes the only universal disposition or asana which can possibly save humanity and Earthkind altogether.

  11. Matako

    “when i came to this site i was thinkin of hawkins new planet for homo sapiens sapiens”

    That is an ultimate goal of the Lifeboat Foundation, and the best possible way to “Safeguard Humanity” to spread out, into space, as far and as quickly as possible. See our Ark I space station.