Founded in 2019, the Stanford Existential Risks Initiative is a collaboration between Stanford faculty and students dedicated to mitigating existential risks, such as extreme climate change, nuclear winter, global pandemics (and other risks from synthetic biology), and risks from advanced artificial intelligence. Our goal is to foster engagement from both within and beyond the Stanford community to produce meaningful work aiming to preserve the future of humanity. We aim to provide skill-building, networking, professional pathways, and community for students and faculty interested in pursuing existential risk reduction. Our current programs include a research fellowship, an annual conference, speaker events, discussion groups, and a frosh-year COLLEGE class, "Preventing Human Extinction," taught annually by two of the initiative's faculty directors.
What is an existential risk?
We think of existential risks, or global catastrophic risks, as risks that could cause the collapse of human civilization or even the extinction of the human species. Prominent examples of human-driven global catastrophic risks include 1) nuclear winter, 2) an infectious disease pandemic engineered by malevolent actors using synthetic biology, 3) catastrophic accidents/misuse involving AI, and 4) climate change and/or environmental degradation creating biological and physical conditions that thriving human civilizations would not survive. Other significant catastrophic risks exist as well.