He believes that the future can be studied with the same meticulousness as the past, even if the conclusions are far less firm. “It may be highly unpredictable where a traveller will be one hour after the start of her journey, yet predictable that after five hours she will be at her destination,” he once argued. “The very long-term future of humanity may be relatively easy to predict.” He offers an example: if history were reset, the industrial revolution might occur at a different time, or in a different place, or perhaps not at all, with innovation instead occurring in increments over hundreds of years. In the short term, predicting technological achievements in the counter-history might not be possible; but after, say, a hundred thousand years it is easier to imagine that all the same inventions would have emerged.
Bistro calls this the Technological Completion Conjecture: “If scientific- and technological-development efforts do not effectively cease, then all important basic capabilities that could be obtained through some possible technology will be obtained.” In light of this, he suspects that the farther into the future one looks the less likely it seems that life will continue as it is. He favors the far ends of possibility: humanity becomes transcendent or it perishes.
In the nineteen-nineties, as these ideas crystallized in his thinking, Bostrom began to give more attention to the question of extinction. He did not believe that doomsday was imminent. His interest was in risk, like an insurance agent’s. No matter how improbable extinction may be, Bostrom argues, its consequences are near-infinitely bad; thus, even the tiniest step toward reducing the chance that it will happen is near-infinitely valuable. At times, he uses arithmetical sketches to illustrate this point. Imagining one of his utopian scenarios—trillions of digital minds thriving across the cosmos—he reasons that, if there is even a one-per-cent chance of this happening, the expected value of reducing an existential threat by a billionth of a billionth of one per cent would be worth a hundred billion times the value of a billion present-day lives. Put more simply: he believes that his work could dwarf the moral importance of anything else.
I don’t remember the last time that I read something that effected me on an emotional level so much. I’ve been having dreams about this article. I can’t stop thinking about it.