In the closing scene of “Life as it could be”, David Hall, the director of the Institute for Posthumanism, informs his colleagues about the plans for a new institute. He asks if they have any ideas for a new name and speculates about the location “either on Tennis Court Road, surrounded by the natural sciences, or in Newnham, next to the computer science department.”
Now, only a few years later, the successor to the Institute of Posthumanism, the only one of its kind, has been opened and the questions about name and location are answered. And of all places in the world, it is in Cambridge! Of course you say, but you forget that this is not about an institute in a book but a real one, with real people and real funding. As if trying to find a compromise between the two locations mentioned above, it is situated right in the middle, a short walk away from Kings Parade, inside the Alison Richard Building on West Road. Dedicated to the study and mitigation of risks that could lead to human extinction, its name is—drum roll—the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, in short CSER.
The CSER is now hosting a series of talks, all about risks humanity is facing via technology, and I went to the first one. “Risks and benefits of gain-of-function experiments in potentially pandemic pathogens” was as chilling as it was interesting, but what I’m really looking forward to, as you might expect, is the next one, “Minds Like Ours: An Approach To AI Risk” by Murray Shanahan.
It stands to reason to that its fictional precursor in “Life as it could be” called the CSER into existence, but then, however improbable, this all might be just a coincidence.