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Third Annual Stanford Existential Risks Conference, April 20-22, 2023

Call for Papers
From Global Catastrophes to Existential Risks: Intersections, Reinforcements, Cascades
Deadline for abstract submissions: December 15, 2022

Real-world threats of civilizational collapse or even human extinction – global catastrophic and existential risks – have gained importance for humankind. Scholarship on these risks zeroes in on a handful of major concerns, especially nuclear war, climate change, natural and synthetic pathogens, and artificial intelligence. Evidence of such risks abounds: Threats of nuclear weapons use in Ukraine. Destructive weather events greatly amplified by climate change. Mass death and global disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. AI systems achieving near-human performance, yet lacking human ethics and values.

Other risk areas are also emerging. These include (potentially AI-generated) misinformation and disinformation – feeding the rise of fascism, racism, and authoritarianism while undermining reality-based governance. Major ecological and geophysical “planetary boundaries” have already been severely breached, with others likely soon to follow. Cascades of mutually reinforcing threats may also be creating unanticipated, global systemic risks that could prove existential in scope.

Our third annual Stanford Existential Risks Conference aims to take stock of this broad existential risk (aka X-risk) landscape. We invite submissions focused on the past, present, and future of X-risk studies.  Papers might sum up the fruits of existing approaches to existential risks and/or address their weaknesses and blind spots. Or they might propose potential directions for the future of existential risk studies.

We especially hope to showcase work that explores (1) potential interactions among acknowledged X-risks or (2) how cascades of “merely'' catastrophic risks could combine to jeopardize the foundations of human society. For example, nuclear war threatens nuclear winter, a climatic catastrophe that would lead to billions of deaths from famine on top of infrastructure destruction on a probably irrecoverable scale – yet post-Cold War generations seem to readily accept the use of nuclear weapons. AI techniques have already generated recipes for thousands of toxins similar to chemical warfare agents; might armed forces, terrorist groups, or even individuals deploy these tools to construct deadly pathogens by modifying genomes? Climate change threatens not only deadly heat waves and inexorable sea level rise, but also massive disruption to ecosystems, food supplies, and infrastructure integrity. But proposed, heroic technical interventions could exacerbate interstate tensions and risk unforeseen consequences, such as redistributing precipitation or spreading deadly micro-organisms far beyond their existing ranges.

Finally, our conference welcomes constructive critiques of how catastrophic and existential risks are framed and understood, including such ethical underpinnings as longtermism. We especially encourage submissions by emerging and younger scholars at any level and from any discipline.

A hybrid meeting: logistics, submissions, publication, and deadlines

The core meeting will take place in person over two days, April 21-22, with a welcome gathering on Thursday, April 20 for those able to attend. We have space for approximately 80 in-person participants. All meals will be provided.

On the first day, April 21, in-person talks and panels will be streamed online. The remote audience will have opportunities to comment and ask questions, but all presentations will be live and in person. The morning of the second day, April 22, will feature remote presentations, parallel sessions, and discussion. The major sessions will be broadcast to the live audience as well. This period will also feature networking opportunities for both live and online attendees. In the afternoon of April 22, live presentations will resume (streamed online as well), with a focus on future research agendas. For the in-person audience, the conference concludes with dinner on April 22.

Publication

Conference proceedings will be published after light editing. Given sufficient quality and quantity, we expect to pursue publication of some materials in book form.

How to submit an abstract

Please submit an abstract (400 words max) and brief bio statement no later than December 15, 2022. If accepted, your conference paper (3000-6000 words) will be due by April 1, 2023, to give the SERI team time to arrange panels and presentations. Please indicate whether you prefer to participate in person (April 21-22) or remotely (April 22 only), or whether you’re open to both options.

In Spring 2023, we will circulate a separate announcement for those who wish to attend (remotely or in person) without presenting. Remote attendees will be accepted up to the limit of our technical capacity. We also expect to reserve some in-person slots for Stanford students and faculty. If you wish to attend without presenting, there is no need to submit anything at this time. You may wish to sign up for our mailing list to receive infrequent announcements of this and other SERI events.