What We Owe the Future | William MacAskill

Summary of: What We Owe the Future
By: William MacAskill


Dive into the thought-provoking world of ‘What We Owe the Future’ by William MacAskill, as we contemplate the impact of our present actions on future generations. This eye-opening book explores the concept of longtermism, emphasizing the importance of considering the potential consequences of our choices on the future of humanity. Delve into the pressing issues, such as climate change, artificial general intelligence, pandemics, and how our values and ethics shape our destiny. Get ready to reevaluate your perspective on how to create a better world for the countless lives yet to come.

Creating a Better Future for the Next Generations

Longtermism reminds us of our obligation to improve the future lives of a million possible people for each person alive today.

What if you had to live through the entire lives of every person in the future, no matter how good or bad they might be? Longtermism suggests that it is our obligation to improve the quality of life for the future generations. It urges us to reduce carbon emissions in the present, be cautious with new technology, and be conscious of how our actions affect the future.

The reason behind this obligation to future people is the sheer number of them. We could have millions of people living in the future for every one of us alive now. If we want to create a better future, we have to influence outcomes now. History has shown that humanity has the power to improve life expectancy, reduce poverty, and increase literacy. However, we also have the capacity to create catastrophic outcomes like totalitarian regimes.

Our responsibility to create a better future also involves preventing our own extinction. As we’ll see in the forthcoming sections, developing strategies to prevent self-inflicted demise is a big part of our responsibility. Longtermism serves not only as a reminder of our responsibility but also as a guide to creating a better future for all future generations that come after us.

Abolishing Slavery: A Moral Puzzle-piecing

The author explores the mysterious nature of abolitionism, questioning why something that was once ubiquitous, profitable, and defended by influential people was eventually abolished. While moral progress may have played a role, specific events and factors, such as the activism of a small group of Quakers, ultimately made abolition more likely. The author emphasizes the importance of changing society’s values to avoid value lock-in, which could have led to a future where slavery still exists. The current state of the moral universe is highly malleable, but technological advances could potentially put an end to this.

AGI and Value Lock-In

The development of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is a cause of great concern as it has the potential to accelerate both technological and economic growth, and is potentially immortal. This technology could be used to create skilled, intelligent, productive agents that will pursue goals closely aligned with their creators. AGI raises the risk of stamping out competing moral views and eliminating people holding opposing views. Although there is no certainty of when AGI will be developed, we should consider the danger of it developing, as this could affect which values eventually get locked in. To overcome this problem, we should aim for a morally exploratory world and favor political experimentalism by developing charter cities, which operate autonomously under different sets of laws. They could be used to determine empirically which sets of values bring the best society. AGI has a high chance of developing in the near future, and it is important to consider how to avoid value lock-in.

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