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Title: Existential risk and the technological understanding of being
Author: Hecker, Kim Caspar
ISNI:       0000 0004 7968 5371
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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'Existential risk research' or 'existential risk studies' is an emerging, interdisciplinary genre that seeks to provide an integrative, scientific framework for the study of existential dangers to humanity. Having been introduced by Oxford Philosopher Nick Bostrom in the early 2000s, existential risk research over the past ca. 15 years has become increasingly popular amongst scientists from a wide variety of academic disciplines and recent years have seen the foundation of research institutes, dedicated exclusively to the study of existential risk, at some of the most prestigious research universities in Europe and the United States. In spite of its interdisciplinary character, neither history nor political theory play a prominent role in existential risk research. This dissertation argues that this is a regrettable state of affairs and presents the first systematic attempt to survey and frame existential risk research from a political thought perspective. Drawing on three authors who wrote about deeply related questions in the post-war decades - Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt and Günther Anders - it contextualises existential risk studies in the light of long-standing discussions about the interrelations between modern technology, human value and human agency under existential conditions. At the heart of these discussions the dissertation identifies a range of ontological complications. It demonstrates that, despite the fact that existential risk scholarship tends to side-line the type of ontological problems that have been uncovered by Heidegger, Arendt and Anders, it cannot escape this dimension altogether but instead highlights the imminent relevance of these authors' analyses. One instance in which this becomes particularly salient is in the context of existential fears surrounding artificial intelligence. The dissertation therefore closes with a discussion of the issue of artificial intelligence in existential risk research, bringing together insights from the preceding chapters.
Supervisor: Runciman, David Sponsor: Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit ; Economic and Social Research Council ; University of Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: political theory ; philosophy of technology ; existential risk ; Martin Heidegger ; Hannah Arendt ; political theory of technology