The idea this week: working on a highly neglected or pre-paradigmatic issue could be a way to make a big positive difference.

We usually focus on how people can help tackle what we think are the biggest global catastrophic risks. But there are lots of other pressing problems we think also deserve more attention — some of which are especially highly neglected.

Compared to our top-ranked issues, these problems generally don’t have well-developed fields dedicated to them. So we don’t have as much concrete advice about how to tackle them, and they might be full of dead ends.

But if you can find ways to meaningfully contribute (and have the kind of self-directed mindset necessary, doing so could well be your top option.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Risks of stable totalitarianism

If we put aside risks of extinction, one of the biggest dangers to the long-term future of humanity might be the potential for an ultra-long-lasting and terrible political regime. As technology advances and globalisation and homogenisation increase, a stable form of totalitarianism potentially could take hold, enabled by improved surveillance, advanced lie detection, or an obedient AI workforce. We’re not sure how big or tractable these risks are, but more research into the area could be highly valuable. Read more.

2. Long-term focused space governance

Humanity’s future, and the future of sentient life, may extend far beyond Earth and even the solar system. But whether this potential expansion goes well or badly is far from certain. In the meantime, because space governance is not yet settled, issues such as weapons in space might presently increase the risk of great power war. We think some people could have a significant impact and improve the prospects for our descendants by working in the field of space governance to lay a positive groundwork for the future — and that now might be a particularly good time to do so. Read more.

3. Civilisational resilience

We generally focus on measures to reduce global catastrophic risks, but it’s also worth asking: what can we do to help humanity survive a global catastrophe if one does happen, like an enormous nuclear war or biological disaster? How likely is civilisation to recover from most disasters by default? Despite the importance of these questions, we know of only a few people and organisations trying to answer them. Read more.

4. Wild animal suffering

Nature is not inherently kind. Many wild animals are forced to endure significant pain, suffering, and disease throughout their lives with little comfort. While there’s historically been little interest in assessing or mitigating these harms, there’s now a nascent field of research and advocacy around potential opportunities to significantly reduce the unnecessary suffering of wild animals. Read more.

5. Artificial sentience

We’ve written a lot about the risks AI poses to humanity. But we also think there’s a plausible case that AI systems themselves could one day become sentient — that is, able to suffer or flourish. That might well make them subjects of moral concern themselves, and it could become really important that we ensure the future goes well for them too. We hope to dive more into this issue soon, but for now, you can read more here.

6. S-risks

S-risks, or suffering risks, refer to the risk of seeing vastly more suffering in the future than has existed on Earth so far. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like such a remote possibility to us that it can be ignored, but very few people are thinking about it. These risks might arise as part of other problem areas, and could affect humanity, non-human animals, and perhaps even future sentient, non-biological beings. Read more.

These issues are all highly neglected, and though we don’t know as much about them as we’d like, we think they might be very important. This means that if you can find a way to help — for example by doing research to disentangle the issue or help start up a research field — you might be able to make quite an outsized difference.

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