The Relevance of a Singleton in Managing Existential Risk

The idea of a ‘Singleton’, a universal decision-making agency that maintains world order at the highest level, offers a functional means for discussing the implications of global coordination, especially as they relate to existential risk. In his 2005 essay, Nick Bostrom both introduces the term and provides elaboration regarding possible examples of a Singleton, the ways one could arise, and its ability to manage global catastrophes.

Bostrom notes that a Singleton may come into being in various forms, including, but not limited to, a worldwide democratic republic, a worldwide dictatorship, or an omnipotent superintelligent machine; the final of these is the least intuitive (and certainly the most closely tied to science fiction), but does, in certain forms, meet Bostrom’s Singleton definition requirements.

One may note common characteristics between all forms of a Singleton. Its necessary powers include (1) the ability to prevent any threats (internal or external) to its own supremacy, and (2) the ability to exert control over the major features of its domain. The creation of a Singleton in ‘traditional government’ form may emerge if seen necessary to curtail potentially catastrophic events. Historically, the two most ambitious efforts to create a world government have grown directly out of crisis (League of Nations, United Nations); future increased power and ubiquity of military potential (e.g. nuclear, nanobot, A.I. capabilities) may help rapidly develop support for a globally coordinated government. The creation of a Singleton in superintelligent machine form may arise if a machine becomes powerful enough that no other entity could threaten its existence (possible through an uploaded consciousness or the ability to easily self-replicate), and if it holds universal monitoring/ security/ cryptography technologies (plausible given the rapidly increasing volume of internet-connected devices).

Although not without disadvantages (touched on further in the paper), the creation of a Singleton would offer a method for management of existential risk. See Bostrom’s full discussion on the merits of a Singleton here!


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