There is no question that the world is dramatically changing at a rate never seen before. During the American Revolution, people rode horses for transportation, manually hauled drinking water into their homes, and burned wood for heat. Muskets and cannons were state-of-the-art weapons. It was not until 1833 that the White House was outfitted with running water, and not until 1853 was running water available upstairs.

The current rate of technological advancement is stunning. Much of it has been responsible for dramatic improvements in living standards worldwide. However, as with all technology, people can also use these advancements for evil purposes. We are now faced with serious issues we need to address urgently. Indeed, we face serious existential threats that need to be carefully thought through to achieve workable solutions before our technology produces devastating consequences that may well be irreversible. While we waste time bickering about trendy social issues, our time to resolve these most serious issues dwindles. We flirt with disaster as we continue to ignore the problems that could result in changing life on Earth forever.

While an isolationist position, or a strict policy of non-intervention, may have been entirely appropriate during George Washington’s time, such a position now could lead to the worst possible outcome for humanity. For most of human history, whatever occurred in some distant part of the world rarely posed any significant threat to people living far away. The world is dramatically different today. Substantial threats can now effortlessly emanate from anywhere on Earth.

To be clear, this is not to say intervention is appropriate or justified in all cases. We should never interfere with another person, or group of people, simply because they violate the 3L Moral Principle. Indeed, we should always support the legal rights of people to violate the 3L Moral Principle as we encourage and attempt to inspire them to act differently. However, when someone violates the 3L Legal Principle by creating a substantial threat of harm, that the threat emanates from a distant land is irrelevant to the analysis. In such a case, we are justified in acting to neutralize the threat. Whether to act and how best to neutralize the danger if action is required are other questions we must resolve separately and carefully.

While I do not pretend to offer either a comprehensive treatment of these issues or solutions to these most serious and complex issues, I merely seek to draw attention to them to stir enough interest to identify them as top priorities worthy of our immediate attention. It is not too severe to declare that the future of most or all of human existence may be at stake. We need to urgently redirect our time, efforts, and resources to resolving these most serious and pressing threats in a way entirely consistent with the 3LP.

Nuclear War

Nine countries currently possess more than thirteen thousand nuclear weapons. An incredible and unthinkable amount of destructive power is now in the hands of a few imperfect humans. Our utter vulnerability to a few humans making a fateful decision to intentionally use nuclear weapons is entirely unacceptable. An equally severe concern is our related vulnerability to a horrible and fatal miscommunication, miscalculation, or accidental launch. We need to urgently find ways to reduce the overall number of these weapons with the end goal of eliminating them from the planet. Given their destructive force, these weapons cannot be used without violating the 3L Legal Principle as they are guaranteed to kill innocent people with every use.xxi We must find a way to accomplish our goals in this area. It must begin with honest and serious discussions.

Given the amount of distrust, much of it earned, between the leaders of the relevant nuclear-armed nations, it strains logic to imagine they could seriously sit down and negotiate in good faith to achieve these goals. However, we must succeed. To that end, we need to rebuild the trust sufficiently to even engage seriously in these discussions. If we are not trustworthy in the first place, we cannot expect to achieve the required trusting relationship to make real progress. However, with such a critically important issue, trust but verify should be the rule.

A related problem with nuclear weapons relates to our rapidly increasing technology. We should expect that such technological advances will eventually increase the likelihood that manufacturing nuclear weapons could become accessible to anyone who desires to obtain one. It is not too severe to imagine that if technology emerged today that allowed anyone to acquire a nuclear weapon, we should expect the end of most, if not all, life on Earth in short order.

We should not doubt there are people alive right now who would be enthusiastic about detonating as many nuclear weapons as possible in our most densely populated cities if they had the opportunity. Whether these people are motivated to act because of erroneous beliefs, evil intentions, mental illness, or in the heat of passion is irrelevant. Given that we can expect this technology to come, and we have no way to know when, we must urgently plan now for its arrival. To this point in human history, we have not been successful in keeping new technologies from spreading into the hands of people who would use them to violate the 3L Legal Principle. We must urgently find a way to succeed in this area. Again, this is a global problem in need of a worldwide solution.

We must not send people to negotiate these issues, who are of questionable character and motives. To that end, we need to reform ourselves so we can improve our politics and priorities to attract people of high character to positions where they can achieve our critically essential goals in this area. A genuine commitment to achieving a peaceful world would be a good start.

Synthetic Biology

We now live in a world where scientists can artificially engineer new biological organisms not found in nature. Scientists can synthesize entire strings of DNA to create complicated and artificial molecular machinery. As with all technology, we can use it to advance human well-being or impair it. While we may be able to delay the spread of this technology, we cannot put it back in the box. Reckless experimentation with new and dangerous organisms, even when engaged in by people with good intentions, is a substantial risk of harm wherever it occurs. The damage that could result from even an honest mistake in this area justifies our keen awareness of this issue and our best efforts to prevent it.

Unfortunately, we can expect that people with bad intentions are also busy attempting to engineer new designer viruses that are both contagious and deadly so they can weaponize them to create horrible global pandemics. Now, information for engineering known deadly viruses from synthetic strands of DNA is readily available on the internet. Despite our best efforts, information about newly discovered and engineered viruses will eventually be available to people with bad intentions. It is not sufficient to propound and enforce regulations to prohibit reckless experimentation in this area. Even careful investigation by people with bad intentions creates a substantial risk of harm. We must immediately become vigilant in detecting and neutralizing the significant threats birthed by people worldwide with bad intentions.

As with other dangerous activities, we immediately need comprehensive regulations with effective worldwide enforcement to reduce the possibility that a new and deadly organism is unleashed upon the world accidentally or intentionally. As with many issues, this is another example of why we need a coordinated global effort at peace rather than simply focusing on our communities or countries. That this activity is occurring at some distant location is irrelevant. As we learned from the Covid-19 experience, we now live in a global community. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and adopt an isolationist position. We are a global community. We need more attention and discussion on this issue to implement coordinated, effective, and immediate global solutions.

Artificial Intelligence

When computer-controlled machines can exceed human intelligence by writing their computer programs and creating their technology, we can say they have achieved artificial general intelligence. Some describe this situation as the moment intelligence escapes the constraints of biology. When this occurs, humans will no longer be the most intelligent entities on the planet. Indeed, humans will almost instantly become incalculably and vastly less intelligent than the artificial entities they created. This reality is virtually certain to materialize. I invite you to ponder this possibility for a moment thoughtfully.

We have no idea when these machines will achieve this ability. However, we currently live at a time where computing power doubles every two years. Computers have already achieved the ability to learn, almost instantly, how to play games like chess even better than the most skilled humans. They can now also learn languages and speak in a way that will someday likely be indistinguishable from human speech. We simply do not know, and cannot predict, how this technology will evolve and what threats, if any, will arise.

There is already serious concern that our rapidly expanding technology in this area could pose a serious risk to humanity. Indeed, several prominent people with specialized knowledge in this area have already started sounding the alarm.xxii The primary concern in this area is that when computers gain the ability to reprogram and improve themselves, they may decide for themselves what goals they seek to achieve. This situation could result in computers, now exponentially more intelligent than humans, seeking to attain goals incompatible with human well-being or even existence. As is currently the case with playing the game of chess, intelligent computers may have an easy time outsmarting humans in a competition for limited resources or even survival itself.

Consider the growing numbers of autonomous computer-controlled machines, including weapons. While it may be difficult to imagine these items thinking for themselves beyond what they were initially programmed to do, the modern smartphone was also unimaginable to most people a few decades ago. We can now easily posit a dangerous superintelligence that escapes the control of humans. In such a case, humans could potentially be subject to the whims of a supercomputer that has no regard for our understanding of basic morality.

There remain other varieties of concerns as well. It is now clear that automated machines can and will soon replace much of the human workforce. Even now, automated machines can more efficiently accomplish many jobs better than humans. Undoubtedly, the number of jobs currently filled by humans likely to be replaced soon could be staggering. We cannot predict what will occur in society when innovative and vastly more efficient computers are accomplishing a wide variety of jobs. It seems we are destined to find out soon.

Threats to what remains of privacy and related security issues are also serious areas of concern. People with bad intentions can now avail themselves of more effective technology to assist them with hacking into private accounts, gaining detailed information about others through sophisticated surveillance methods, profiling, and intentional disinformation campaigns to effectively shape what people believe to be true about the world. Employing facial recognition technology more widely will effectively nullify the idea of traveling or doing anything anywhere, anonymously. We should expect this technology soon to be ubiquitous. We are also now vulnerable to “deepfakes,” where technology is employed to make it realistically look and sound as if any person said or did something they did not say or do. Said another way, we can no longer believe what we see or hear.

As with the issues of nuclear weapons and synthetic biology, we should immediately engage in much more discussion, debate, and analysis on these issues. We may not have an option to reverse the potentially disastrous consequences that could occur from the reckless development of this technology. As with the other issues discussed in this section, local solutions will be ineffective. We need immediate global coordination to ensure the responsible development of this technology in a way that minimizes the chances of substantial threats to humanity’s existence.

Unknown Existential Threats

Many more known existential threats require our reasoned attention and thoughtful consideration. This book is not about existential threats, so I do not endeavor to identify or discuss them all. Besides, we should expect that we do not currently know about some existential threats. We cannot predict the future. Nor can we predict what future technologies will emerge or what threats that future technology will pose. There may well also be many additional naturally occurring existential threats of which we are now entirely ignorant. As with the known existential threats, we can reasonably expect these yet unknown threats may also require global solutions.

These are complex problems. We need our best and brightest people worldwide working on them in a coordinated way. To this end, we must pursue a global environment of cooperation, trust, and respect where necessary research can occur and reasonable regulations can be debated, agreed upon, and enforced globally to avoid one of these known or yet unknown existential threats from materializing. We must remain vigilant about both identifying potential existential threats and minimizing them. While these are unique problems that have mostly never arisen in human history, we have every reason to believe that each problem has a solution. As such, we need to think creatively and outside the box. In any event, we have no option but to address them. Sooner rather than later, we must come together globally to address these rather substantial problems. Our failure to address and solve these problems on a global level may well nullify everything else about which we care. We must urgently direct our collective attention and energies to resolve these most critically urgent and vital issues.