Existential Risk and Cost-Effective Biosecurity

Health Secur. 2017 Jul/Aug;15(4):373-383. doi: 10.1089/hs.2017.0028. Epub 2017 Aug 14.


In the decades to come, advanced bioweapons could threaten human existence. Although the probability of human extinction from bioweapons may be low, the expected value of reducing the risk could still be large, since such risks jeopardize the existence of all future generations. We provide an overview of biotechnological extinction risk, make some rough initial estimates for how severe the risks might be, and compare the cost-effectiveness of reducing these extinction-level risks with existing biosecurity work. We find that reducing human extinction risk can be more cost-effective than reducing smaller-scale risks, even when using conservative estimates. This suggests that the risks are not low enough to ignore and that more ought to be done to prevent the worst-case scenarios.

Keywords: Biothreat; Catastrophic risk; Cost-benefit analysis; Cost-effectiveness; Existential risk.

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis*
  • Existentialism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Economic
  • Probability
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Risk
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Risk Factors