What to expect at the first colloquium on existential and catastrophic risk

What will happen?

The purpose of this two-and-a-half-day Colloquium on Catastrophic and Existential Risk is to contribute to the pioneering work of scholarly groups such as the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute and the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.  In the United States, such groups as the Future of Life Institute, the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, the Foresight Institute, and the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute are inspirations for the colloquium as well.  All of the above groups will be represented at the colloquium.

1.    Monday, March 27th 2017

Day 1 will be a series of lectures from distinguished scholars on topics such as the status of current knowledge on global and existential risk, mitigation and prevention, prediction and management, governance and ethical issues, and examples of catastrophic and existential threats.

2.    Tuesday, March 28th 2017

Day 2 will consist primarily of three breakout sessions for reviewing and synthesizing the lecture material and key topics identified during the lectures.  Time is allowed for all the participants to be engaged and to express their points of view.

The desire is for the breakout sessions to not only challenge the lecture material, but to add the different views of the participants in terms of such questions as below.

·       What are the benefits to society of a better understanding of catastrophic and existential risks? That is, why is such knowledge important?

·       What are the principal roadblocks to funding existential risk research and what can be done about them?

·       To what extent have the risk sciences been applied to quantifying such risks and have they been successful?  What has happened to the results?

·       How feasible is the physicist Stephen Hawking’s suggestion that we should be looking for another planet as a way to avoid an existential event?

The breakout sessions will be very important as they are intended to process the information presented including that from the participants who do not make a formal presentation.  The product of the breakout discussions will be summaries either in narrative form or power point presentations.

3.   Wednesday, March 29th 2017

Day 3 will consist of presentations of the results from the breakout discussions to all of the participants, allowing time for discussion and debate.  The moderators (or whomever they designate) will make the presentations to an assembly of all the participants. 

The results of the colloquium will be processed for publication by the B. John Garrick Institute for the Risk Sciences.

What will happen at the breakout discussion sessions?

The primary goal of the breakout discussion sessions is to review the first day’s presentations and ferret out the key messages and supporting evidence.  Given that many of you have important views on catastrophic and existential risk (but were not able to present them as part of the first day lectures) the secondary goal is to allow time for mini presentations by participants desiring to do so.  The mini presentations and their discussions will add source material to consider for the proceedings.

The breakout discussion timings are described in the detailed program. This includes 4.5 hours for discussion and 1.5 hours of preparation time for the Wednesday presentations.  The time allowed for the Wednesday presentations will be 1 hour each, which is to include (as a guide) 30 minutes of presentation followed by a 30-minute question and answer session.

As the colloquium will experience, catastrophic and existential risks are extremely broad topics requiring years of research, study, and engineering to develop a path forward for their better management.  Examples of some of the questions for which answers are needed are the following.  The overarching question is where are we? …in getting some real answers to such questions and what is the best strategy for moving forward?

·       What are the benefits to society of a better understanding of catastrophic and existential risks? That is, why is such knowledge important?

·       What is missing in terms of technology and governance to put initiatives in place for the better management of catastrophic and existential risk?

·       Are the contemporary methods of quantitative risk assessment being employed to better calibrate the types of risks of concern (scenarios, likelihoods, consequences)?

·       What should be the driving consideration for prioritizing catastrophic and existential risks?  Should it be risk and cost-benefit or should the focus just be human sustainability?  Or should it be different depending on the risk?  For example, for those catastrophic events that cannot lead to elimination of the human species, the approach should probably be risk and cost-benefit.  Those events that are existential or could lead to such, the criteria might best be the likelihood of human sustainability.

·       What are the principal roadblocks to funding research on catastrophic events and existential risks?

·       To what extent have the risk sciences been applied to quantifying such risks and have they been successful?  What has happened to the results?  Is the lack of action “knowledge based” or just the view that there are other more important issues facing society?  How do we get attention and action on being better prepared to cope with a catastrophe whether it be regional, global, or existential?

·       How feasible is the physicist Stephen Hawking’s suggestion that we should be looking for another planet as a way to avoid an existential event?  Kepler - 452b, 1400 light years away, may offer some hope on this option.  There would have to be colossal breakthroughs in transportation and communication.  At the speed of the New Horizons Spacecraft (37,000 mph) it would take 26 million years to get there.

·       How involved is the engineering community in developing defensive measures against extreme events having the potential for catastrophic consequences?  What are the engineering challenges to better manage catastrophic risks?  Why doesn’t engineering have a stronger presence in implementing real solutions to many catastrophic risks?    

·       What are the options for reducing the risk of nuclear and bioterrorism?  What is actually being done and by whom?  Reducing this threat is an example where engineering could play a major role?     

·       What means and mechanisms exist or need to be created to raise the consciousness of our political leaders of the importance of taking action on the management of catastrophic and existential risks?

 Who will speak?

  1.  B. John Garrick, Ph.D. and M.S., Engineering and Applied Science, UCLA; B.S., Physics, BYU; graduate, Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology, is a pioneer in the risk sciences relating to the assessment and management of the risk of complex systems, both natural and man-made.  He has authored texts on the risk sciences and served a White House appointment for two terms as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board.  He retired as CEO of PLG, Inc., an international engineering and management consulting firm following the start of his career as a physicist for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.  He is a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, UCLA, and a fellow of three professional societies, the American Nuclear Society, the Society for Risk Analysis, and the Institute for the Advancement of Engineering.  He is a past President of the international Society for Risk Analysis, receiving that society’s highest award, the Distinguished Achievement Award.  Dr. Garrick was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1993 “for making quantitative risk assessment an applied science and a fundamental part of engineering design.”  He is founder and senior advisor of the UCLA B. John Garrick Institute for the Risk Sciences, and received the 2014 Alumnus of the Year award from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.
  2. Dr. Ali Mosleh is a Distinguished University Professor and Evelyn Knight Chair in Engineering at UCLA where he is also the director of the UCLA Garrick Institute for the Risk Sciences. Previously he was the Nicole J. Kim Eminent Professor of Engineering and Director of the Center for Risk and Reliability at the University of Maryland. He was elected to the US National Academy of Engineering in 2010, and is a Fellow of the Society for Risk Analysis, and the American Nuclear Society, recipient of several scientific achievement awards, and technical advisor to numerous organizations, including appointment by President George W. Bush to the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. He conducts research on methods for probabilistic risk analysis and reliability of complex systems and has made contributions in diverse fields of theory and application. He holds several patents, and has edited and authored over 500 publications. 

  3. Seth Baum is Executive Director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, a non-profit think tank that Baum co-founded in 2011.  His research focuses on risk and policy analysis of catastrophes such as global warming, nuclear war, and future artificial intelligence. Dr.  Baum received an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Northeastern University and a Ph.D. in Geography from Pennsylvania State University.  He then completed a post-doctoral fellowship with the Columbia University Center for Research on Environmental Decisions.  In addition to his scholarly work, he writes frequently for popular media and is a featured columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

  4. Albert Carnesale is Chancellor Emeritus and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).  He joined UCLA in 1997, and was Chancellor of the University through 2006 and Professor of Public Policy and of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering through 2015.  His research and teaching continue to focus on public policy issues having substantial scientific and technological dimensions, and he is the author or co-author of six books and more than 100 articles on a wide range of subjects, including national security strategy, arms control, nuclear proliferation, domestic and international energy issues, and higher education.

    Professor Carnesale chaired the National Academies Committees on NASA’s Strategic Direction, on America’s Climate Choices, on Nuclear Forensics, and on U.S. Conventional Prompt Global Strike; and was a member of the Obama Administration’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future and of the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board.  He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Pacific Council on International Policy; and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  In addition, he serves on the Boards of Directors of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and of Amicrobe, Inc.

    Prior to joining UCLA, Professor Carnesale was at Harvard for 23 years, serving as Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Public Policy and Administration, Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Provost of the University.  He holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering (Cooper Union), a master's degree in mechanical engineering (Drexel University), and a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering (North Carolina State University).

  5. Peter Katona is Clinical Professor of Medicine in Infectious Diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Adjunct Professor of Public Health at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. He has worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an EIS Officer studying viral diseases and doing epidemic investigation, and at Apria, Corum and CVS as their Corporate Medical Director. He has held teaching appointments at Louisiana State University’s National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, and the Los Angeles County Emergency Management Services (EMS) Agency. He has been a member of the LA County EMS Agency Disaster Coalition Advisory Committee, the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s National and Global Public Health Committee, the Pacific Council on International Policy’s Homeland Security Committee, The White House Healthcare and Public Health Sector Cybersecurity Working Group Incorporating New technologies Sub-Workgroup, and served on the FDA’s Anti-Infective Drugs Advisory Committee.

    Dr. Katona is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as Chairman of the UCLA Hospital Infection Control Committee. He has authored articles on medical informatics, medical education, biosurveillance, influenza, polio, nutrition, bioterrorism, disasters, and the future of health care. He is developing a project to do disease surveillance using social networking in Vietnam, and a project to study healthcare vulnerabilities to catastrophic disasters in Los Angeles. He is also developing a project on the vulnerability of digitized hospital patient data. He is an internationally recognized authority on bioterrorism and has lectured throughout the world on this topic. He teaches a yearly Honors course at UCLA on terrorism, and has edited the books Countering Terrorism and WMD: Creating a Global Counter-Terrorism Network; Global Biosecurity: Threats and Responses with a book on the vulnerability of healthcare to disasters in progress. He is designing the Health Portal for IntelDirector, a comprehensive website devoted to United States infrastructure. He is a Board member of the University of Florida, the LA Emergency Preparedness Foundation and the Good Hope Medical Foundation. He also maintains a private practice in infectious diseases and internal medicine in Los Angeles.

  6. Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh is the Executive Director of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at the University of Cambridge. He is also a Senior Research Associate at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, where he leads CFI's Policy and Responsible Innovation project, and is a co-investigator at the Strategic AI Research Centre. Previously, he ran the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, and set up the FHI-Amlin Collaboration on Systemic Risks, both at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford. Dr. Ó hÉigeartaigh's research spans technology policy and strategy, catastrophic risk, and horizon-scanning and foresight.

  7. Christine Peterson writes, lectures, and briefs policymakers and the media on coming powerful technologies - especially nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. She is Co-founder and Past President of Foresight Institute, the leading nanotech public interest group. She serves as an Advisor to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, the Global Healthspan Policy Institute, the National Space Institute, and Ligandal, Inc. She is credited with coining the term ‘open source software.’

  8. Catherine Rhodes is Academic Project Manager at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, working across its research projects. Her work has broadly focused on the interactions between, and respective roles of, science and governance in addressing major global challenges. In the context of extreme technological risks, She is particularly interested in understanding the intersection and combination of risk stemming from technologies and risk stemming from governance (or lack of it). She has particular expertise in international governance of biotechnology, including biosecurity and broader risk management issues.

    Dr. Rhodes has a background in international relations, but has engaged in extensive interdisciplinary work. Her Ph.D. was funded as part of a Project to Strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention at the Bradford Disarmament Research Centre, and she retains a strong interest in international actions to prevent misuse of bioscience. This includes recent contributions to projects on the development of biosecurity and ethics education, and on improving science and technology review in the biological and chemical weapons control regimes.

    Dr. Rhodes worked for the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at Manchester University from 2008-2015, where her work included elaborating the meaning and content of scientific responsibility at the global level, investigation of science advisory processes in international organizations, and a substantial study of the international governance of genetic resources, which has significant implications for the use of biosciences in managing major global challenges.

  9. Anders Sandberg’s research at the Future of Humanity Institute at University of Oxford centers on management of low-probability high-impact risks, societal and ethical issues surrounding human enhancement, estimating the capabilities of future technologies, and very long-range futures. He is currently senior researcher in the FHI-Amlin industry collaboration on systemic risk of risk modeling. He is senior Oxford Martin fellow, and research associate of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, the Center for the Study of Bioethics (Belgrade), and the Institute of Future Studies (Stockholm). He is on the advisory boards of a number of organizations and often debates science and ethics in international media.

  10. Detlof von Winterfeldtis the Tiberti Chair for Ethics and Decision Making at the Viterbi School of Engineering of the University of Southern California (USC) and a Professor of Public Policy of USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. In 2003 he co-founded the National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), the first university-based Center of Excellence funded by the US Department of Homeland Security. His research interests are in the foundation and practice of decision and risk analysis as applied to the areas of technology development, environmental risks, natural hazards and terrorism.  He published widely in these areas. In 2000 he received the Ramsey Medal for distinguished contributions to decision analysis from the Decision Analysis Society of INFORMS and in 2012 he received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Society for Risk Analysis.

  11. Jonathan Wiener is Perkins Professor of Law, Environmental Policy and Public Policy, at Duke University, where he co-directs the ‘Rethinking Regulation’ program.  He is also a University Fellow of Resources for the Future, and a member of the scientific committee of the International Risk Governance Council.  He served as President of the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) in 2008, co-chaired the SRA World Congress on Risk in 2012, and received its Chauncey Starr Young Risk Analyst Award in 2003.  His publications include the books Risk vs. Risk: Tradeoffs in Protecting Health and Environment (1995) (with Graham);  Reconstructing Climate Policy (2003) (with Stewart);  The Reality of Precaution: Comparing Risk Regulation in the US and Europe (2011) (with others);  and Policy Shock: Recalibrating Risk and Regulation after Oil Spills, Nuclear Accidents and Financial Crises (2017) (with others).  Before coming to Duke in 1994, Professor Wiener served at the US Department of Justice, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the President’s Council of Economic Advisers ; he helped negotiate the Framework Convention on Climate Change(1990-92), and helped draft Executive Order 12,866 on regulatory review (1993).  He was a law clerk to federal judges Stephen Breyer (1988-89) and Jack Weinstein (1987-88).  He received economics and law degrees from Harvard University.