The Precipice, by Toby Ord

I was sure that I’d first heard Toby Ord interviewed by Sean Carrol on his Mindscape podcast — but I can’t find it to link to. If/when I do, I’ll add here.

The following is from a story in The New Yorker, How Close Is Humanity to the Edge? by Corinne Purtill (21 November 2020):

“In mid-January, Toby Ord, a philosopher and senior research fellow at Oxford University, was reviewing the final proofs for his first book, “The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity.” Ord works in the university’s Future of Humanity Institute, which specializes in considering our collective fate. He had noticed that a few of his colleagues—those who worked on “bio-risk”—were tracking a new virus in Asia. Occasionally, they e-mailed around projections, which Ord found intriguing, in a hypothetical way. Among other subjects, “The Precipice” deals with the risk posed to our species by pandemics both natural and engineered. He wondered if the coronavirus might make his book more topical.

“In February, the U.S. leg of Ord’s book tour, which was scheduled for the spring and was to include stops at Stanford, M.I.T., and Princeton, was cancelled. “The Precipice” was published in the United Kingdom on March 5th; two weeks later, Ord was sheltering in place at home. His wife, Bernadette Young, an infectious-disease specialist at John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford, began working overtime, while he cared for their daughter, Rose, who was then five. “I’d already known that, during a crisis, the unthinkable can quickly become the inevitable,” Ord told me, earlier this year. “But, despite having this intellectual knowledge, it was still quite something to see such a thing unfold before my eyes.”

“For someone with Ord’s interests, living through a pandemic is an opportunity to contemplate alternate histories. What might have happened in a world in which covid-19 didn’t exist, or was handled differently?…” Continued here.

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