There are many definitions of existential risk ranging from the simple definition of ‘the risk of human extinction’, to the more philosophically technical ‘the risk of a drastic loss of expected value’.
One of the more popular definitions is given by philosopher Toby Ord as: An existential risk is a risk that threatens the destruction of humanity’s longterm potential. Through use of this definition, Ord includes risks of human extinction, as well as unrecoverable civilisational collapse, or becoming trapped in a permanent state of extreme suffering.
Though there will be some slight variability between definitions, much of the research conducted on existential risks concerns scenarios common to most if not all definitions . A closely related notion is that of an existential catastrophe, defined as a particular event that causes the occurrence of an existential risk (however it has been defined).
As a result of existential risk research’s position as a relatively young field of enquiry, as well as its inherent speculative nature, only a small number of qualitative estimates have been made of the total amount of risk that humanity faces. In his book The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, Toby Ord, a professor at Oxford University, estimates the total risk of an existential catastrophe occurring in the coming 100 years at approximately 1 in 6 .
There is still sizeable disagreement on the amount of risk we face within the academic community, with estimates ranging from a less than 5% chance that humanity will cease to exist before the year 5,100 CE , to a 50% chance that we will not survive to the end of the current century . However, many see this uncertainty as a compelling reason in itself for why research into existential risk is important. Regardless of the true value of the amount of risk we face, we would like to know if we are safe, or if not, how much danger we are in.