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Phew! The Odds of Human Extinction by 2100 Do Not Exceed 6%!

By:James Melton

MATHBOX, courtesy of Luckbox magazine

  • Apocalypse by 2100? Might happen. Probably won't.
  • A catastrophe is a bit more likely, forecasts say.
  • 'Superforecasters' are more optimistic than 'experts.'

Will the human species be extinct by the year 2100? The chance is low, but undeniably greater than zero, according to a compilation of forecasts that benchmark the risk of apocalypse.

Earlier this month, the Forecasting Research Institute (FRI) released a 755-page report analyzing the results of its Existential-Risk Persuasion Tournament (XPT), held in June through October of 2022. Depending on your personal level of pessimism, the results could be reassuring, terrifying or anything in between.

The tournament included 169 participants divided into two groups: One group consisted of “80 specialists on long-run existential risks to humanity,” referred to as “experts.” The second was a group of 89 participants described as “seasoned forecasters with a track record of predictive accuracy on shorter-run questions,” aka “superforecasters.”

Tournament organizers asked participants to forecast the likelihood of global risks of human extinction or "catastrophe" related to nukes, biological hazards or AI. XPT defines catastrophe as an event that, within five years, causes the death of more than 10% of humans.

Results vary, so will reactions

Here’s some of what the experts and superforecasters predicted:

  • The median expert predicted a 20% chance of a “catastrophe” (of any kind) and a 6% chance of human extinction by 2100. The median superforecaster was more optimistic, predicting a 9% chance of catastrophe and a 1% chance of extinction by 2100.
  • The median expert put the chance of a nuclear catastrophe by 2100 at 8%. The median superforecaster, put the odds at 4%.

In short, the experts give long odds to the likelihood of an extinction-level of catastrophic disaster by 2100—and superforecasters are even more optimistic.

For adherents of the 1% Doctrine (attributed to Dick Cheney by Ron Suskind), the correct response to a 1% chance of an existential threat is to treat it as a certainty. So, the report offers no comfort for them. Those in the not-so-paranoid community might have varied reactions.

Some of the "good" news here: The median expert said the odds of nuclear extinction at just 0.55%, while the median superforecaster percentage was a tiny 0.074%.

More about XPT

To recruit and select experts, the FRI contacted organizations working on existential risk. That included relevant academic departments, research labs at major universities and "companies operating in these spaces." It also reached participants via blogs, Twitter and other means.

To recruit superforecasters, FRI worked with Good Judgment Inc. (GJI), a company that provides paid forecasting services.

Of the 169 XPT participants, 111 finished all parts of the tournament.

The bottom line here is that the modern world is dangerous. That's unlikely to change. It could be time to learn to stop worrying and love the uncertainty of it all.

James Melton is managing editor of Luckbox magazine.

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