An interesting question offered by Tyler Cowen at his Stanford lecture, but not answered to any great detail.

Specifically he estimates that humanity has about 800 years left, and there’s probably not much we can do to change that. He wasn’t clear about the causal model behind that, but hinted at a Nick Bostrom style “black ball” argument - eventually we will invent a technology so easily accessible and destructive that the world will be destroyed.

Interestingly, the 800 year estimate is not too far from Toby Ord’s 1/6th chance of x-risk this century - survival probability for 8 centuries is (5/6)^8 = 23%.

But let’s just take it as an axiom that humanity will destroy itself within 800 years. What ought we do?

Obviously this depends on how exactly it will destroy itself. If with technology, could we escape by permanently freezing technological progress? If the destruction is just of Earth, could we escape by putting all our resources into building a sustainable Mars colony?

These are interesting and useful tangents but they are still fighting the hypothetical. Let’s say there was literally nothing we could do to save humanity in any form.

We might hope to preserve some of humanity’s culture in the form of information. We could carve it into rock if the Earth won’t be physically destroyed, send it physically on an unmanned probe, or beam it out to the universe.

To simplify, let’s make the hypothetical even darker - assume life will never again arise in the universe and our final broadcast nothing but a requiem, echoing forever in a dead universe.

What then is the right course of action? We have these 800 years; how do we use them?

Should we be more conservative, or less? Should we care more about suffering? Hedonism? Inequality? Growth? Justice? Art?

None of the answers are very obvious, which makes me think the existence of the “cosmic endowment” is not, pace Bostrom, a load-bearing part of my worldview.