Heard of Toby Ord ? Born in Melbourne , philosopher and senior research fellow at Oxford University.

In mid-January, Toby Ord, a philosopher and senior research fellow at Oxford University, was reviewing the final proofs for his first book, “The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity.” Ord works in the university’s Future of Humanity Institute, which specializes in considering our collective fate. He had noticed that a few of his colleagues—those who worked on “bio-risk”—were tracking a new virus in Asia. Occasionally, they e-mailed around projections, which Ord found intriguing, in a hypothetical way. Among other subjects, “The Precipice” deals with the risk posed to our species by pandemics both natural and engineered. He wondered if the coronavirus might make his book more topical.

In 2009, Ord founded Giving What We Can, a society whose members pledge to donate at least ten per cent of their incomes, in the course of their careers, to charity. By his own accounting, Ord, who is now forty-one, has given away twenty-seven per cent of his lifetime earnings. He has pledged to donate the proceeds from “The Precipice” to organizations working on the problems that the book outlines.

A concern for existential risk seemed, to Ord, to be the next logical expansion of a broadening moral circle. If we can learn to value the lives of people in other places and circumstances equally to our own, then we can do the same for people situated at a different moment in time. Those future people, whose quality of life and very existence will be intimately affected by our choices today, matter as much as we do; from the perspective of our species, they are us and we are them. Ord compares humanity’s current situation to adolescence, a treacherous period when strength and desire outpace wisdom and self-control, and when one’s future life seems remote and unreal. According to fossil records, the typical lifetime of a mammalian species is a million years. “If we think of one million in terms of a single, eighty-year life,” he writes, then today humanity would be “sixteen years old; just coming into our power; just old enough to get ourselves in serious trouble.”

How Close Is Humanity to the Edge? | The New Yorker