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Working on this problem could be among the best ways of improving the long-term future, but we know of fewer high-impact opportunities to work on this issue than on our top priority problems.

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Why might risks from malevolent actors be an especially pressing problem?

An essay by David Althaus and Tobias Baumann argues that when people with some or all of the so-called ‘dark tetrad’ traits — narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sadism — are in positions of power or influence, this plausibly increases the risk of catastrophes that could harm many people alive today or even influence the long-term future.

Developing better measures of these traits, they suggest — as well as good tests of these measures — could help us make our institutions less liable to be influenced by such actors. We could, for instance, make ‘non-malevolence’ a condition of holding political office or having sway over powerful new technologies.

While it’s not clear how large of a problem malevolent individuals in society are compared to other issues, there is historical precedent for malevolent actors coming to power — for example, Hitler and Stalin plausibly had strong dark tetrad traits — and perhaps this wouldn’t have happened if there had been better precautions in place. If so, this suggests that careful measures could prevent future bad events of a similar scale (or worse) from taking place.

There has been very little work on this topic that we know of.

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Read next:  Explore other pressing world problems

Want to learn more about global issues we think are especially pressing? See our list of issues that are large in scale, solvable, and neglected, according to our research.

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