WHERE RESEARCH CONFRONTS CATASTROPHE

The UChicago Existential Risk Laboratory’s mission is to understand and mitigate existential and global catastrophic risks while training the next generation of scholars and policymakers. Our work is focused on preventing events that could result in hundreds of millions of deaths or permanently curtail civilization’s long-term potential.

XLAB SUMMER RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP 2024 APPLICATIONS ARE NOW OPEN

WHAT WE’RE DOING

SUMMER RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP

A 10 week, independent research training program for undergraduate and graduate students, focused on topics in existential risk

ARE WE DOOMED?

An introductory survey course on existential and global catastrophic risk

STUDENT RESEARCH PROJECTS

Yearlong, student-led research projects advised by domain experts

LIFE AFTER CLIMATE CHANGE

Nights Owls “Life After Climate Change” Talk with Daniel Holz and David Wallace Wells

NUCLEAR NOW

Panel discussion and film screening

THE DOOMSDAY CLOCK

Panel discussion at International House

DOOMSDAY GOES TO THE MOVIES

Film screening at the Siskel Film Cener. Featuring Godzilla, Don’t Look Up (followed by panel discussion with Daniel Holz and Liz Moyer), Contagion, and War Games.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES?

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy estimated the risk of nuclear war to be “somewhere between one out of three and even.”  Today, there are more vectors to potential catastrophe than ever before, and experts are increasingly warning that the chance of disaster this century is intolerably high (Forecasting Existential Risks).

WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

AI capabilities are developing at an exponential rate. AI experts are warning of potentially catastrophic consequences of the technology they themselves are developing, including misinformation campaigns, reduced barriers to bioterrorism, and rogue autonomous models. With huge economic gains at stake, competition is driving an unprecedented pace of research and funding, while the potentially devastating risks are not being given commensurate attention.

NUCLEAR WEAPONS

The world remains a false alarm, a single person’s impulsive decision, and a few minutes from nuclear conflagration and an ensuing nuclear winter. Thousands of nuclear weapons around the world are on hair-trigger alert. Once the button is pushed, the order can’t be rescinded, and once launched, the missiles cannot be shot down. Despite multiple documented near misses and a renewed rise in global tensions, nuclear risk mitigation receives insufficient attention from policy makers and researchers.

CLIMATE

It is increasingly obvious that our planet’s climate is shifting, leading to catastrophic wildfires, unprecedented flooding, hot and cold temperature extremes, devastating storms, and sea level rise. These will inevitably become more severe, causing famine, mass population displacement, and international conflict. If a climate tipping point is crossed, feedback effects could lead to even more catastrophic outcomes.

BIOSECURITY

The specter of pandemics has always loomed over humanity. Today’s increased interconnectedness, rising ability to engineer pathogens, and a frightening history of laboratory leaks and misuse, threaten outbreaks of unprecedented danger. COVID-19 is a warning shot: future pandemics could involve more transmissible and deadly biological agents, and society remains profoundly unprepared.

GET INVOLVED

XLab is a research community focused on reducing the greatest threats to humanity. Addressing these risks is necessarily an interdisciplinary undertaking, and XLab actively seeks collaborators and students from across the academy and beyond. If you’re interested in working on our core focus areas, supporting XLab, or just want to learn more, please contact us at xlab-info@uchicago.edu.

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