The innovation-responsibility gap as humanity’s great filter

The Great Filter was presented by Robin Hanson 20-plus years ago as a possible solution to the Fermi paradox.

The basic idea is that there are certain transitions, or filters, that life has to pass on its way to becoming able to colonize the universe. If a species or civilisation makes it through the filter, it is ”kind of” safe until it reaches the next filter. If you do not pass the filter, you are dead.

The idea as it stands has some serious problems. In particular, it has been criticised for ignoring the vastly different circumstances, including in particular, very different evolutionary trajectories on different planets and other worlds, which means it’s much harder than it looks to identify certain filters that all life forms everywhere have to pass.

These problems aside, what if we apply the idea of a great filter specifically to us, here and now?

In my presentation I will argue humanity is now standing before a great filter in the form of the innovation-responsibility gap. This concept refers to the fact that we are vastly better at innovating than at living responsibly. With ever more potent technologies, and not least the ongoing inclusion of space in the economic, political, cultural and military sphere of Earth, we are approaching a situation where learning to handle our innovations and innovative ability in a responsible way will decide whether we will prosper or die as a civilization, species and maybe biome. It is thus not our innovative ability itself that will bring us bliss or doom. The decisive factor is how we handle the innovation-responsibility gap.