The Precipice

Existential Risk & The Future of Humanity

book cover

Humanity stands at a precipice.

Our species could survive for millions of generations — enough time to end disease, poverty, and injustice; to reach new heights of flourishing. But this vast future is at risk. With the advent of nuclear weapons, humanity entered a new age, gaining the power to destroy ourselves, without the wisdom to ensure we won’t. Since then, these dangers have only multiplied, from climate change to engineered pandemics and unaligned artificial intelligence. If we do not act fast to reach a place of safety, it may soon be too late.

The Precipice explores the science behind the risks we face. It puts them in the context of the greater story of humanity: showing how ending these risks is among the most pressing moral issues of our time. And it points the way forward, to the actions and strategies we can take today to safeguard humanity’s future.

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“A powerfully argued book that alerts us to what is perhaps the most important — and yet also most neglected — problem we will ever face.”

Peter Singer

About the author

Toby Ord is a trustee of 80,000 Hours and a Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy at Oxford University. His work focuses on the big-picture questions facing humanity. What are the most important issues of our time? How can we best address them?

His earlier work explored the ethics of global poverty, leading him to make a lifelong pledge to donate 10% of his income to the most effective charities helping improve the world. He created a society, Giving What We Can, for people to join this mission, and together its members have pledged over £1 billion. He then broadened these ideas by co-founding the effective altruism movement in which thousands of people are using reason and evidence to help the lives of others as much as possible.

His current research is on risks that threaten human extinction or the permanent collapse of civilization, and on how to safeguard humanity through these dangers, which he considers to be among the most pressing and neglected issues we face. Toby has advised the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, the US National Intelligence Council, and the UK Prime Minister’s Office.

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“The Precipice separates science from hype and will remain the definitive work on existential risk for a long time to come.”

Max Tegmark, author of Life 3.0

“This book is a wake-up call to the existential threats of nuclear and biological weapons, and the urgent need for action. A must-read that galvanizes us to play a role in addressing these risks.”

Angela Kane, former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs

“A fascinating and persuasive guide to the most important topic of all: how our species will survive the risks we pose to our continued existence.”

Stuart Russell, author of Human Compatible

“Toby Ord is today’s Carl Sagan. Clear and inspiring, this book leaves us hopeful for a flourishing human future.”

Christine Peterson, cofounder of the Foresight Institute