Memia podcast #3: Matt Boyd on global catastrophic and existential risks
All the fun topics: pandemics, nuclear winters, unaligned AI and Aotearoa as island refuge.
I'm delighted to share another (occasional!) Memia podcast - a series of conversations with New Zealanders doing amazing work interpreting and shaping the future.
In this episode I speak with Matt Boyd, director of New Zealand-based firm Adapt Research - Matt is one of Aotearoa’s leading experts focusing on the *BIG Questions* around catastrophic and existential risks for humanity.
In this conversation we spend just over an hour discussing these major risks: ranging through new pandemics, asteroid impacts, nuclear winters and all the way to unaligned artificial intelligence. We also go into the challenges of making this relevant for Aotearoa and Matt's proposals to establish a new government role - a Parliamentary Commissioner for extreme risks.
Matt is a regular correspondent of mine when I’m writing the Memia newsletter and we have also worked together on a few research projects, most notably Te Kahui Atamai Iahiko o Aotearoa / AI Forum NZ’s series of research reports on national AI policy and AI in Health back in 2019.
I really value Matt's insights on some of the biggest questions facing humanity today — and by extension all of us living here in Aotearoa — I hope you enjoy the conversation!
Listen to the audio-only podcast above or watch the whole recording on YouTube here:
Originally medically trained, Matt Boyd completed his PhD in Philosophy from Victoria University of Wellington, with his thesis titled: "As We Build our World We Build our Minds: The Causal Role of Technology in the Development and Evolution of Human Psychological Traits".
He's since built a career as an independent researcher spanning academic, public and private sectors. For the last five years Matt's research has attempted to understand and help reduce the largest threats to humanity, global catastrophic and existential risks.
Mentioned during the podcast:
Toby Ord book: The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity
Neal Stephenson novel: Fall; or Dodge in Hell
Kim Stanley Robinson novels: Mars Trilogy
Neal Stephenson novel: Seveneves
Peter Gluckman proposal (Auditor General): Uncertain but inevitable: The expert-policy-political nexus and high-impact risks
Te Puna Matatini research on parliament protests disinformation, RNZ Interview with study co-author Sanjana Hattotuwa: Disinformation 'super spreaders' involved in Parliament protest
Web3 docs and email service: Skiff
Also further relevant reading just out:
University of Cambridge Centre for Existential Risk: Military Artificial Intelligence as Contributor to Global Catastrophic Risk
Website & blog: https://adaptresearchwriting.com/
Paper mentioned: (with Nick Wilson) recent recommendation for a Parliamentary Commissioner for Extreme Risk: Anticipatory Governance for Preventing and Mitigating Catastrophic and Existential Risks
Recorded: May 18th, 2022
01:28 Matt's career progression
04:10 What are the top 10 existential risks facing humanity in 2022?
07:04 Risks and impacts of nuclear winter
10:52 Environmental risks and ecological collapse
12:32 Ecological resilience theory
14:00 Eocene extinction event
15:02 Asteroid impacts
15:30 Becoming an interplanetary species
16:50 Matt's current work - pandemic planning
20:16 Pandemic border closures -"Hermit Kingdom" strategy?
22:50 Island refuges
28:30 Aotearoa government and managing national risks
31:40 Proposal for a Parliamentary Commissioner for extreme risks
35:00 Looking after the interests of future generations
37:00 The Effective Altruism movement / ITN Framework
40:00 "Moral cluelessness"
41:30 "Homo Capitalus"
43:30 S-Risks - intense future suffering
48:15 Unaligned AI / killer robots / evolutionary equilibria?
51:00 Misinformation / Disinformation - "Cascade of Doubt", "The Flume"
55:20 Ben is Matt's "Editor": "I doomscroll through Twitter 5 hours a day so you don't have to"
56:10 "Dark forests" instead of the public internet
57:00 Web3, decentralised architectures cryptocurrencies
59:00 National "business continuity" strategic planning
1:03:00 Aotearoa's obligation to humanity to be an island refuge