Purpose: This paper formalizes long-term trajectories of human civilization as a scientific and ethical field of study. The long-term trajectory of human civilization can be defined as the path that human civilization takes during the entire future time period in which human civilization could continue to exist.
Approach: We focus on four types of trajectories: status quo trajectories, in which human civilization persists in a state broadly similar to its current state into the distant future; catastrophe trajectories, in which one or more events cause significant harm to human civilization; technological transformation trajectories, in which radical technological breakthroughs put human civilization on a fundamentally different course; and astronomical trajectories, in which human civilization expands beyond its home planet and into the accessible portions of the cosmos.
Findings: Status quo trajectories appear unlikely to persist into the distant future, especially in light of long-term astronomical processes. Several catastrophe, technological transformation, and astronomical trajectories appear possible.
Value: Some current actions may be able to affect the long-term trajectory. Whether these actions should be pursued depends on a mix of empirical and ethical factors. For some ethical frameworks, these actions may be especially important to pursue.
long-term trajectories, human civilization
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Baum, Seth D.; Armstrong, Stuart; Ekenstedt, Timoteus; Häggström, Olle; Hanson, Robin; Kuhlemann, Karin; Maas, Matthijs M.; Miller, James D.; Salmela, Markus; Sandberg, Anders; Sotala, Kaj; Torres, Phil; Turchin, Alexey; and Yampolskiy, Roman V., "Long-Term Trajectories of Human Civilization" (2019). Economics: Faculty Publications, Smith College, Northampton, MA.