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The notion of existential catastrophe is increasingly appealed to in discussion of risk management around emerging technologies, but it is not completely clear what this notion amounts to. Here, I provide an opinionated survey of the space of plausibly useful definitions of existential catastrophe. Inter alia, I discuss: whether to define existential catastrophe in ex post or ex ante terms, whether an ex ante definition should be in terms of loss of expected value or loss of potential, and what kind of probabilities should be involved in any appeal to expected value.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





109 - 129