Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

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Centre for the Study of Existential Risk
Formation2012; 11 years ago (2012)
PurposeThe study and mitigation of existential risk
HeadquartersCambridge, England
Parent organization
University of Cambridge

The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) is a research centre at the University of Cambridge, intended to study possible extinction-level threats posed by present or future technology.[1] The co-founders of the centre are Huw Price (Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge), Martin Rees (the Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society) and Jaan Tallinn (co-founder of Skype).[2]

Areas of focus[edit]

Managing extreme technological risks[edit]

Risks are associated with emerging and future technological advances and impacts of human activity. Managing these extreme technological risks is an urgent task - but one that poses particular difficulties and has been comparatively neglected in academia.[3]

  • CSER researchers developed a widely used tool to automatically scan the scientific literature for new research relevant to global risk.[4]
  • CSER has held two international Cambridge Conferences on Catastrophic Risk.[5][6] The Centre has also advised on the establishment of global risk projects at the Australia National University,[7] the University of California, Los Angeles[8] and the University of Warwick.[9]
  • CSER helped establish the first All-Party Parliamentary Group for Future Generations in the United Kingdom Parliament, bringing global risk and long-term thinking to UK political leaders.[10]
  • CSER has held over thirty workshops bringing together academia, policy and industry on topics including cybersecurity, nuclear security, climate change, and gene drives.[11]
  • CSER Public Lectures have been viewed over 100,000 times online.[12]

Global catastrophic biological risks[edit]

  • In 2017, CSER convened policy-makers and academics to identify challenges for the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). A key issue identified was that the rapid rate of progress in relevant sciences and technologies has made it very difficult for governance bodies including the BWC to keep pace.[13]
  • CSER researchers ran a horizon-scanning exercise for 20 Emerging Issues in Biological Engineering drawing on 30 European and US experts.[14] They presented the paper at the 2017 Meeting of States Parties to the BWC,[15] and at the Science Advisory Board of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 2018.[16]

Extreme risks and the global environment[edit]

  • Martin Rees and Partha Dasgupta, a senior advisor, have co-organised a series of influential workshops with the Vatican. The 2015 workshop influenced the Papal Encyclical on Climate Change,[17] which in turn influenced the Paris Agreement on climate change. The 2017 workshop's findings will soon be published as a book on Biological Extinction.[18]
  • CSER researchers have published on biodiversity loss and governance in Nature,[19] the environmental impact of high-yield farming[20] and prospects for geoengineering.[21]
  • CSER researchers published a report calling for business school rankings to include sustainability.[22] Four days later, the Financial Times announced a "complete review of our methodology."[23]

Risks from advanced artificial intelligence[edit]

  • In 2015 CSER helped organise a conference on the future directions of AI in Puerto Rico, resulting in an Open Letter on Artificial Intelligence signed by research leaders worldwide calling for research on ensuring that AI systems are safe and societally beneficial.[24]
  • In 2016, CSER launched its first spin-off: the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI). Led by Professor Price, CFI focuses on the opportunities and challenges posed by AI.[25]
  • From 2017 onwards, CSER has organized a series of academic conferences bringing together Decision Theory and AI safety.[26]
  • In 2018, with partners from tech companies and security think-tanks, CSER published The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Preventing and Mitigation, on the implications of AI for physical and cybersecurity.[27] They also published An AI Race: Rhetoric and Risks, which won the inaugural Best Paper prize at the 2018 AAAI/ACM AI Ethics and Society conference.[28]

Media coverage[edit]

CSER has been covered in many different newspapers (particularly in the United Kingdom),[29][30][31] mostly covering different topics of interest. CSER was profiled on the front cover of Wired,[32] and in the special Frankenstein issue of Science in 2018.[33]


CSER Advisors include Cambridge academics such as:

And advisors such as:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Biba, Erin (1 June 2015). "Meet the Co-Founder of an Apocalypse Think Tank". Scientific American. 312 (6): 26. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0615-26. PMID 26336680.
  2. ^ Lewsey, Fred (25 November 2012). "Humanity's last invention and our uncertain future". Research News. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  3. ^ "Managing Extreme Technological Risks".
  4. ^ "Existential Risk Research Network | X-Risk Research Network | www.x-risk.net".
  5. ^ "Cambridge Conference on Catastrophic Risk 2016".
  6. ^ "Cambridge Conference on Catastrophic Risk 2018".
  7. ^ "Latest news | Humans for Survival".
  8. ^ "The B. John Garrick Institute for the Risk Sciences".
  9. ^ "PAIS researchers secure prestigious Leverhulme funding".
  10. ^ "Appg-future-gens".
  11. ^ "Events".
  12. ^ "CSER Cambridge". YouTube. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  13. ^ "Biological Weapons Convention: Where Next?".
  14. ^ Wintle, Bonnie C.; Boehm, Christian R.; Rhodes, Catherine; Molloy, Jennifer C.; Millett, Piers; Adam, Laura; Breitling, Rainer; Carlson, Rob; Casagrande, Rocco; Dando, Malcolm; Doubleday, Robert; Drexler, Eric; Edwards, Brett; Ellis, Tom; Evans, Nicholas G.; Hammond, Richard; Haseloff, Jim; Kahl, Linda; Kuiken, Todd; Lichman, Benjamin R.; Matthewman, Colette A.; Napier, Johnathan A.; Óhéigeartaigh, Seán S.; Patron, Nicola J.; Perello, Edward; Shapira, Philip; Tait, Joyce; Takano, Eriko; Sutherland, William J. (2017). "A transatlantic perspective on 20 emerging issues in biological engineering". eLife. 6. doi:10.7554/eLife.30247. PMC 5685469. PMID 29132504.
  15. ^ "BWC Press Conference".
  16. ^ "Talk to Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons".
  17. ^ University of California (24 September 2015). "A 'Parking Lot Pitch' to the Pope". Retrieved 6 April 2019 – via YouTube.
  18. ^ Dasgupta, Partha; Raven, Peter; McIvor, Anna, eds. (2019). Biological Extinction edited by Partha Dasgupta. Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108668675. ISBN 9781108668675. S2CID 241969653.
  19. ^ Amano, Tatsuya; Székely, Tamás; Sandel, Brody; Nagy, Szabolcs; Mundkur, Taej; Langendoen, Tom; Blanco, Daniel; Soykan, Candan U.; Sutherland, William J. (2017). "Successful conservation of global waterbird populations depends on effective governance". Nature. 553 (7687): 199–202. doi:10.1038/nature25139. PMID 29258291. S2CID 205262876.
  20. ^ Balmford, Andrew; Amano, Tatsuya; Bartlett, Harriet; Chadwick, Dave; Collins, Adrian; Edwards, David; Field, Rob; Garnsworthy, Philip; Green, Rhys; Smith, Pete; Waters, Helen; Whitmore, Andrew; Broom, Donald M.; Chara, Julian; Finch, Tom; Garnett, Emma; Gathorne-Hardy, Alfred; Hernandez-Medrano, Juan; Herrero, Mario; Hua, Fangyuan; Latawiec, Agnieszka; Misselbrook, Tom; Phalan, Ben; Simmons, Benno I.; Takahashi, Taro; Vause, James; Zu Ermgassen, Erasmus; Eisner, Rowan (2018). "The environmental costs and benefits of high-yield farming". Nature Sustainability. 1 (9): 477–485. doi:10.1038/s41893-018-0138-5. PMC 6237269. PMID 30450426.
  21. ^ Currie, Adrian (2018). "Geoengineering tensions" (PDF). Futures. 102: 78–88. doi:10.1016/j.futures.2018.02.002. hdl:10871/35739. S2CID 240258929.
  22. ^ "Business School Rankings for the 21st Century".
  23. ^ Berwick, Isabel (27 January 2019). "As business schools rethink what they do, so must the FT". Financial Times.
  24. ^ McMillan, Robert (16 January 2015). "AI Has Arrived, and That Really Worries the World's Brightest Minds". Wired. Retrieved 24 April 2015.
  25. ^ "Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence".
  26. ^ "Decision & AI".
  27. ^ maliciousaireport.com
  28. ^ "Best Paper Award – Aies Conference".
  29. ^ Connor, Steve (14 September 2013). "Can We Survive?". The New Zealand Herald.
  30. ^ "CSER media coverage". Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. Archived from the original on 30 June 2014. Retrieved 19 June 2014.
  31. ^ "Humanity's Last Invention and Our Uncertain Future". University of Cambridge Research News. 25 November 2012.
  32. ^ Benson, Richard (12 February 2017). "Meet Earth's Guardians, the real-world X-men and women saving us from existential threats". Wired UK.
  33. ^ Kupferschmidt, Kai (12 January 2018). "Taming the monsters of tomorrow". Science. 359 (6372): 152–155. Bibcode:2018Sci...359..152K. doi:10.1126/science.359.6372.152. PMID 29326256.
  34. ^ "Team".

External links[edit]