Below is a selection of the most relevant parts of my current work.
Before COVID-19, global catastrophic risks were an abstraction to most people. The level of risk attached to a specific occurrence is calculated by multiplying two factors – how likely the thing is to happen and the magnitude of the devastation caused if it does indeed occur. If something has catastrophic consequences but is quite unlikely to occur, it still requires and deserves massive mitigating efforts. Because putting a lot of effort into things that might never happen is not intuitive, we seldom see the needed resources – be it attention, research grants, international agreements and their sufficient local enforcement – directed towards global risks. My work in this area began when I joined the intellectual movements around posthumanism and transhumanism, whose recognition of AI risk was vastly underappreciated in the mainstream. The first projects I ran started with the vague and overused term “to raise awareness”. Working with traditional means like reports and visualisations, the tactic was to make the general public and their representatives more conscious of just how high the present risk levels are. Some of the projects focused on a particular, crucial moment, like COP21, where we rallied celebrities around a scientist for a call to action – The Earth Statement – which played well due to science communicator extraordinaire Owen Gaffney.
Other efforts were mediagenic in that they played into the doomsday dread that can garner clicks: one of our reports got more than half a billion media impressions. That kind of broad communication, where serious points on AGI get accompanied by The Terminator imagery, might indeed nudge norms somewhat. But over time, I came to believe that affecting the public through increased dread is not reasonable unless it’s accompanied by suggestions that are concrete and actionable. So, the one report I still like from those years is this one where I worked closely with future FOGA co-founder Dr Julien Leyre and the multifaceted creator Elinor Hägg to put the global risks and descriptions of their current governance side by side. We collaborated with 27 globally renowned scientists and thought leaders, including representatives from Oxford, Tsinghua, Stanford and ITE. This report is still updated annually, under the supervision of Victoria Wariaro at the Global Challenges Foundation (GCF). When these kinds of recurring reports are effective, they can be used to track progress, like the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, IEP’s Global Peace Index, or International IDEA’s Global State of Democracy Indices. Such a model is where I hope the current team will take this effort over time.
Tracking indices is a part of the name, shame, and acclaim practice, where you leverage actors’ competitive drive – whether companies, municipalities or states. Tracking, one might think, would be done automatically for all international agreements on global risks. But as Professor Maria Ivanova pointed out in her work, it very much isn’t. Her work inspired me to look at what the next level would be if we could tie international agreements to scores to use as gatekeeping mechanisms. Now that reputation scores, be it FICO, ESG or the social credit score in China, are increasing in prominence, money is getting competition from other numbers that decide who gets access to what privileges. I assembled a team to develop a way to make the Paris Agreement tied to a reputation score and outline several ways to use that score to determine access to capital. The design is detailed in this whitepaper. In short, we got to use algorithms developed by the company Normative to automate sustainability accounting and give each municipality, country and company a score that correlates to how well their actions align with this climate change agreement.
Global catastrophic risks are one of those spheres that can seem challenging to enter, but as they’re such a neglected cause area, a greater talent pool in this space would be vastly impactful. The easiest way to find entry points is through the Effective Altruism community, where organisations like 80,000 Hours help assess and curate a job board with a heavy emphasis on global risks.
Mapping governance innovation
My work to be on top of governance innovation started when I was the Executive Director of the Global Challenges Foundation. Using competitions to source ideas brought our species things as diverse as the standard potato and the marine chronometer for navigation. Using this way to crowdsource ideas to upgrade the global legal order and better mitigate global risks was GCF founder Laszlo Szombatfalvy’s concept. I led the work to structure and enthuse think tanks, scholars and practitioners with ample knowledge to partake in this massive hivemind effort. The excellent group that worked with me managed to get more than 20,000 teams from 180 countries to register and 2,700 to contribute their full models. Among the ideas that ended up winning part of the €5M million prize money put on the table was “Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century” by Augusto Lopez-Claros, Maja Groff, and Arthur Dahl, later turned into this book. Another winner was “A truly global partnership – helping the UN to do itself out of a job” where Shehara Natalie Samarasinghe, current CEO of the United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK), presents a model to give the UN efforts more teeth by changing how the efforts, voices and knowledge from civil society are heard and integrated.
After the competition, I joined the venture among the efforts mapped during the competition that I found most striking. This was Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof’s brainchild Bitnation, exploring virtual nations. Beyond being the first to put everything from passports to birth certificates on blockchains, they built a model that challenged the state construct as the staple of the multilateral world order. By decoupling nations from territory, Bitnation offered a model for virtual jurisdictions, proposing that just like companies are putting their value propositions on markets, so could governance services be brought to the global citizens of today and tomorrow. When Bitnation decided to create a pure research lab dedicated to scanning and developing the bleeding edge of governance in a virtual context, I became the research lab’s director. The work was soon independent of Bitnation’s effort, and I co-created the Future of Governance Agency (FOGA) with some of the most exciting people I had learned about in the field.
We structured FOGA as a cooperative and, after starting with some smaller, more focused research projects, embarked on the massive research expedition that resulted in How to Rule a World (HTRAW). To create it, we revisited the whole library of leads that the Global Challenges Foundation prize competition amassed and, using them, went down many rabbit holes of warfare, lawfare and beyond. The derivative products from HTRAW will be released for years to come, including the yearly co-created updates of the publication itself.
Building and reshaping organisations
A fundamental component of influence is organisation. Whether it’s a matter of organised money, organised data or organised people, strength in numbers is a most real concept. So, whoever wants to change or champion anything benefits from learning how to organise. I like building organisations and view them as beings that, in the best-case scenario, are programmed to move each part in unison towards a goal the parts would not be able to reach if in a more scattered state. Subsequently, I’ve been involved, built myself and advise others in the building of a myriad of organisations, big and small. Optimal organisational design must, in my view, always start with defining the objective and then make choices of how the work to achieve it ought to be structured.
Worth mentioning is my role in establishing Effective Altruism Sweden, now led by Vilhelm Skoglund. The organisation advises highly talented and otherwise resourced individuals on how they can have the biggest impact in the world. I was its chair for three years and still run a live-in-hack-space remotely, where particularly gifted EAs in Stockholm are incubated.
Another initiative that taught me a lot was creating a search engine and matching service for creators in the ’00s. The platform was optimised to promote collaborations, as creating is a highly social activity, where artists need gallerists, drummers, guitarists, directors, screenwriters, etcetera. The virtual experience was paired with meet-ups with great results in terms of materialised collaborations. I ran a beta of this platform and project, but as this was early in my analysis of where I’d be the most useful, I stopped the project, assessing it would take a longer and bigger time investment than made sense. As there still is no platform like this, I’d still be open to giving the entirety over to someone who would be ideally equipped and motivated to bring it back to life and into full fruition.
Another project where I was only involved in the early stage and still see the potential for much vaster scaling related to the reform of the only equivalent to an Ivy League school in the Nordics – the Stockholm School of Economics. They transformed their bachelor’s programme to encompass global challenges, contextualising a more traditional education in economics with the wider landscape of risks and social consideration. This kind of reform would of course be made significantly more powerful if done in a network of universities approach that coordinates actions and shares resources. I’ve been involved in talks to make this kind of platform happen, but as time has gone by, prioritising writing and other direct work on governance innovation has had precedence.