This survey aims to explore the probability of four catastrophic risks – i.e., risks that can potentially result in global catastrophes of a much larger magnitude than either of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis or the COVID-19 pandemic. The four risks the study examines here are: Space weather and solar flares, super-volcanic eruptions, high mortality pandemics, and misaligned artificial intelligence (AI). All four have a non-trivial probability of occurring and all four can lead to a catastrophe, possibly not very different from human extinction. Inevitably, and fortunately, these catastrophic events have not yet occurred, so the literature investigating them is by necessity more speculative and less grounded in empirical observations.
The study's findings argue that artificial intelligence systems most likely pose the highest global catastrophic and existential risk to humanity from the four risks described , including solar-flares and space weather, engineered and natural pandemics, and super-volcanic eruptions. While the risk assessments are difficult for all these four hazards, the difficulty of predicting the potential disastrous dynamics of AI is most acute, even as the risk is also likely the highest. AI, however, may also be very relevant for the other existential risks described in the study. Counterintuitively, maybe, AI may potentially assist in decreasing the risk of other global catastrophic and existential events such as those associated with a nuclear war, an engineered pandemic, or a solar-flare.