The Strangelove Solution to Human Extinction Prevention


As nuclear doom approaches, Dr. Strangelove in the eponymous 1964 movie outlines a plan to President Merkin Muffley to create underground refuges for several hundred thousand Americans to survive in the post-apocalypse world.

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Strangelove explains how computers could be used to select those who would survive based on health, youth, sexual attractiveness and necessary skills. Every doomsday cloud must have its silver lining. As Strangelove adds:

"Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition. Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. But ah with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present gross national product within say, twenty years."

Here at the Oxford Glolbal Catastrophic Risks conference, George Mason University economist and Future of Humanity Institute research fellow Robin Hanson took seriously the notion that a plan to establish refuges to preserve a remnant of humanity might be a good idea when it comes to surviving potential existential threats. Hanson noted that wars seem to be obeying a power law relationship–most of the harm derives from infrequent big wars, not the accumulated casualties of small wars. The power law relationship also seems to hold for other disasters such as epidemics and earthquakes. So perhaps a truly cataclysmic war that could lead to the extinction of human beings lies in the future. One way to prevent humans from going extinct from such global war might be to create refuges. If worse came to worst, the refugees would emerge and revert to hunting and simple farming, but humanity would live to fight (cooperate) another millennia.

Hanson is famous for his work on using prediction markets as a way to aggregate dispersed information. As Hanson explained, "Markets are an open invitation to search out and fix bias and walk away with money." At the conference, Hanson suggested the intriguing possibiity of using something like a prediction market to forecast imminent Armageddon. To boil it down, the idea is that one could sell tickets that would admit one to the refuge(s) in the event of a global catastrophe. If the price for the refuge tickets begin to spike, then head for the hills.

Other cheery posts on Global Catastrophic Risks will follow through the weekend.