Catastrophic Risk: Technologies and Policy

Study Group, Fall 2015, Harvard Berkman Center

Convened by Bruce Schneier

Technology empowers, for both good and bad. A broad history of “attack” technologies shows trends of empowerment, as individuals wield ever more destructive power. The natural endgame is a nuclear bomb in everybody’s back pocket, or a bio-printer that can drop a species. And then what? Is society even possible when the most extreme individual can kill everyone else? Is totalitarian control the only way to prevent human devastation, or are there other possibilities? And how realistic are these scenarios, anyway? In this class, we’ll discuss technologies like cyber, bio, nanotech, artificial intelligence, and autonomous drones; security technologies and policies for catastrophic risk; and more. Is the reason we’ve never met any extraterrestrials that natural selection dictates that any species achieving a sufficiently advanced technology level inevitably exterminates itself?

The study group may serve as a springboard for an independent paper and credit, in conjunction with faculty supervision from your program.

All disciplines and backgrounds welcome, students and non-students alike. This discussion needs diverse perspectives. We also ask that you commit to preparing for and participating in all sessions.

Six sessions, Mondays, 5:00–7:00 PM
9/14, 9/28, 10/5, 10/19, 11/23, 11/30

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.