Bostrom, Nick. Superintelligence (2014).
Superintelligence considers the danger that creating artificial intelligence that surpasses human intelligence could pose to the survival of the human race.
Bostrom, Nick and Milan Circkovic. Global Catastrophic Risks (2008).
Global Catastrophic Risks is a seminal collection of papers on the risk of global catastrophe.
Dartnell, Lewis. The Knowledge (2014).
The Knowledge outlines the basic, practical things we would need to know to rebuild civilization in the aftermath a catastrophe.
Diamond, Jared. Collapse (2004).
Collapse makes the case that five societies—the Greenland Norse, the Easter Islanders, the Pitcairn Islanders, the Anasazi, and the Maya—may have collapsed because of environmental problems they themselves created.
Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011)
Thinking, Fast and Slow is a wonderfully-written summary of the work Kahneman did with Amos Tversky—for which Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics after Tversky’s death—on the cognitive biases that affect judgment and decision-making. Thinking, Fast and Slow is one of the most popular books among superforecasters.
Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction (2014).
The Sixth Extinction argues that we are in the middle of a global extinction event of our own making. At the rate species are dying off, the mass extinction we are causing may be on a par with the other major extinction events in Earth’s history.
Kurzweil, Ray. The Singularity Is Near (2005).
The Singularity Is Near argues that exponentially accelerating returns to technology will lead to a “technological singularity” in 2045 that will transform human life.
Meadows, Donella H., Jørgen Randers, and Dennis L Meadows, Limits to Growth (2004).
Originally published in 1972, Limits to Growth models different levels of economic and population growth using an early computer simulation and outlines different scenarios in which the global system could “overshoot” sustainable limits and ultimately collapse.
Moravec, Hans. Mind Children (1988)
Mind Children is a dated, but still classic look at the future of machine intelligence. Moravec argues that with the pace of improvement in computing capabilities machines will equal and begin to surpass humans in intelligence by 2030.
Naam, Ramez. The Infinite Resource (2013).
The Infinite Resource argues that knowledge is our greatest resource. We can overcome scarcity through innovation, but we have to act fast if we avoid doing irreparable damage to the planet we live on.
Parfit, Derek, Reasons and Persons (1984)
Reasons and Persons is an influential work of analytic philosophy on ethics, rationality, and personal identity. Reasons and Persons is known in particular for its discussion of what Parfit calls “the mere addition paradox”, which seems to show that under reasonable assumptions it would always be better if there were more people, even if their lives were only barely worth living.
Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011).
The Better Angels of Our Nature argues that the secular decline in violence over the course of human history is the result of five “historical forces”: 1) the rise of the modern nation-state; 2) the expansion of trade networks; 3) the inclusion of women in politics; 4) the development of a cosmopolitan culture; and 5) the spread of a more rational understanding our collective self-interest.
Posner, Richard. Catastrophe (2004).
In Catastrophe, appeals court judge and economist Richard Posner makes a cost-benefit case for doing much more than we are currently doing to avert major catastrophes.
Rees, Martin. Just Six Numbers (2000).
In Just Six Numbers, British Astronomer Royal Martin Rees argues that six seemingly arbitrary fundamental constants determine the basic features of our universe. If any of these constants were even slightly different intelligent life would have been impossible.
Rees, Martin. Our Final Hour (2003).
Our Final Hour makes the case that technological advances make the 21st century is a pivotal moment in human history when humans will either expand into space or face extinction. Rees gives humanity just even odds of surviving the century.
Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control (2013).
Command and Control is a history of the management the US nuclear arsenal. Schlosser recounts a disturbing number of nuclear accidents and close calls—like the B-52 that dropped two nuclear weapons over North Carolina in 1961 or the Titan missile that blew up in Arkansas in 1980—as it examines the challenge of keeping nuclear weapons safely.
Tetlock, Philip E. Expert Political Judgment (2005).
Expert Political Judgment presents the results of Philip Tetlock’s original forecasting research. Tetlock found that subject-matter experts were essentially worthless as forecasters—that they were no better, in his famous phrase, than “dart-throwing chimps”. But he also found that some well-informed non-experts were able to predict near-term events with reasonable accuracy. In particular, he found that “foxes” who draw on a wide variety of different ideas and points of view were better forecasters than “hedgehogs” who use the same ideology or theory to explain everything that happens.
Tetlock, Philip E. and Gardner, Dan. Superforecasting (2015).
Superforecasting draws on the results of The Good Judgment Project, a large forecasting tournament sponsored by the US intelligence community, to understand at the habits of mind that make some people better at much predicting the future than others.
Ward, Peter D. and Brownlee, Donald. Rare Earth (2000).
Rare Earth makes the case that planets and regions of space like our own that are conducive to the development of complex life may be rare.
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